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After tight race, Tories will unite under new leader: delegates

Nova Scotia’s Conservative party elected its new leader after a close race. But many delegates say the party will unite under him.

By Takuya Sogawa <tk592115@dal.ca>

Posted: Feb. 13, 2006

Premier John Hamm congratulates his successor Rodney MacDonald. Photo: Takuya Sogawa

Premier John Hamm congratulates his successor Rodney MacDonald. Photo: Takuya Sogawa

More than 2,000 delegates of the Progressive Conservative Party of Nova Scotia elected 34-year-old Tourism Minister Rodney MacDonald to succeed Premier John Hamm in the leadership convention on the weekend. As people expected, it was a tight three-way race that went to a second vote.

However, most Conservatives, including three contenders -- former insurance executive Bill Black, former Finance Minister Neil LeBlanc and MacDonald -- say the party will rally around the new leader despite the close result after the four-month campaign.

Outgoing Premier Hamm said after the second vote that the convention seemed to be successful.

“It has been an exciting convention,” he said. “I’m hoping it come out this united and prepared to take the province to next step away.”

Joseph McLellan of Yarmouth, a retired community college principal who was wearing team LeBlanc’s yellow T-shirt, said the leadership convention was “more open” than the previous convention in 1991.

“I find there is a better, friendly atmosphere in this one,” he said after the first vote. “I think we’ll come out as a consolidated party. I don’t think it’s going to be any animosity.”

12 votes decided the result

Disappointed LeBlanc supporters after the result of the first ballot was announced. Photo: Takuya Sogawa

Disappointed LeBlanc supporters after the result of the first ballot was announced. Photo: Takuya Sogawa

The vote started at 1:30 p.m. on Saturday. Most delegates and volunteers were wearing a similar type of T-shirt, marching around the Metro Centre's arena and stands with large placards to loud music during voting and counting.

Evan Bayers, a Grade 8 student of King’s West who was sitting on Black’s side with the camp’s white T-shirt, said his first political event was interesting.

“I think it’s really great,” he said. “[There is] a lot of fun and learning stuff. This really gets me into [politics] more.”

At 4 p.m., when Judy Streatch and Robert Batherson, co-chairs of the convention, showed up on the stage with the result after an hour-and-a-half of counting, the supporters’ excitement reached a climax. In contrast, the co-chairs announced quite calmly that the number of votes counted for each candidate.

“Votes counted for Rodney MacDonald, 789.” Before Streatch finished reading the number of the last contender, a storm of shout and applause filled the Metro Centre immediately. While both blue and white groups representing the winning two sides were bursting with happiness and excitement, losing yellow groups became quiet suddenly.

Tom Bird of Bridgewater, who supported LeBlanc, said he appreciated the campaign while he was disappointed with the result.

“We worked hard and did an excellent job,” Bird said. “Unfortunately, we’re not going to have his expertise and experience in our cabinet. But we still have two very good candidates on the ballot. Our party is going to be strong.”

“It’s very clean campaign. I think we’ll come out in the end united and a better power.”

Shortly after being eliminated from a second vote, LeBlanc walked up to MacDonald and shook hands, expressing his support for the former cabinet colleague.

 Candidate  Votes  Percentage
 Rodney MacDonald  789  34.85%
 Bill Black  742  32.77%
 Neil LeBlanc  730  32.24%
 Spoiled Ballots  3  0.13%
 Totals  2,264  100%

And the winner is …

Rodney MacDonald defeated Bill Black in the second vote. Photo: Takuya Sogawa

Rodney MacDonald defeated Bill Black in the second vote. Photo: Takuya Sogawa

When the second vote started at 5 p.m., more than 2,000 delegates made the lines to polling booths again. While some LeBlanc supporters wore MacDonald’s blue T-shirts over the yellow ones, other LeBlanc supporters sat on Black’s side with their yellow placards.

Five and a half hours after the first vote started, the convention finally reached its finale. The supporters of all three sides concentrated on the co-chairs’ announcement.

“Votes counted for Bill Black, 855.” As soon as co-chair Batherson announced a lower number than the majority of the valid votes, a storm of shouts and cries went up everywhere in the centre. The loudest noise of the day drowned out even the announcement of MacDonald’s votes. His supporters shared their delight by shaking hands and hugging with teammates.

Willanna MacDonald, a supporter of the winner, was happy with the outcome. “I feel absolutely wonderful,” she said. “He has a lot of foundation and energy. He’ll do well.”

After being mobbed by a rush of blue supporters, MacDonald, 34, went up on the stage with his family, supporters and contenders. The youngest candidate stressed the unity of the party in his victory speech.

“Today, we will move forward together,” he said. “Together, we’re caucus colleagues, all our cabinet members, Bill and Neil…Together, we will achieve the Nova Scotia of our dreams.”

 Candidate  Votes  Percentage
 Rodney MacDonald  1,263  59.29%
 Bill Black  855  40.14%
 Spoiled Ballots  12  0.67%
 Totals  2,130  100%