By Andrew Macdonald
Despite not being a declared contender for the Progressive Conservative leadership race, Cape Breton Regional Municipality mayor Cecil Clarke has assembled support from card-carrying Tories right across the province.
As mentioned elsewhere in this edition of The Macdonald Notebook, Halifax Tory operator David Henderson is working to elect Clarke, while Haligonian party strategist Chad Bowie will run the Clarke campaign.
And, then there is Clarke support from high ranking backroom operator Cameron MacKeen, a very close chum to Peter MacKay, and a former national director of the Conservative party in Ottawa.
You can’t get more blue-blood in Halifax than Cameron, whose grandfather was a lieutenant-governor, and whose father-in-law also served a lieutenant-governor. Cameron’s late dad, widely respected David MacKeen, was a key backer of former prime minister Brian Mulroney.
Cameron’s friendship with Peter MacKay goes back to their days at Acadia University and many are wondering if MacKay will also back Clarke, the two term CBRM mayor.
MacKay was a powerful minister in the 10-year Harper regime, and held the Central Nova seat in Pictou County from 1997 to 2015 before retiring from politics. He is now a corporate lawyer in Toronto.
Clarke was in the John Hamm government, and many political pundits say he did a good job as Speaker of the Legislature during the Rodney MacDonald minority regime.
Clarke won a by-election in Sydney in 2001, when he was considered an also-ran candidate against then provincial NDP leader Helen MacDonald who was seen as the front runner. She lost to Clarke, and then resigned as NDP leader, paving the way for Darrell Dexter to take the party helm. He went on in 2009 to form a government that Liberal Stephen McNeil would defeat in 2013.
Clarke’s backers include powerful Tory MLA Alfie MacLeod, who knows how to win elections, but Clarke supporters are not just concentrated in his native Cape Breton — his support is truly province-wide.
“There is a big team across the province that is committed to Cecil,” says one of Clarke’s backers, who did not wish to be named for this article.
In Halifax, prominent Tories have given their name to a website, www.draftcecil.ca. In addition to Henderson and Cameron, other metro Tories endorsing Clarke include up and coming Tory operator Kyle MacIsaac, a lawyer at McInnes Cooper.
Kyle is a third generation Tory. His grandfather served in the 1960s as Tory MLA for Guysborough.
Kyle is the son of influential John Hamm and Rodney MacDonald cabinet minister Angus ‘Tando’ MacIsaac, who served as Antigonish MLA.
The fact Kyle is supporting Clarke is leading to much speculation his dad Tando is also going to endorse Clarke.
Tando’s close Tory associate is Bobby ‘Daz’ Chisholm, who is also likely on board with Clarke’s candidacy. Bobby Daz, now living in Arisaig, was the most powerful backroom player in the Rodney MacDonald regime, serving as MacDonald’s chief of staff.
Bob Daz and Tando carry a lot of weight in the Tory party in Antigonish, and would most certainly deliver a lot of votes to the Clarke team at a PC leadership convention.
Other prominent Clarke supporters in Metro Halifax include Halifax Chebucto residents Sean and David Phillips, both former PC candidates and prominent in the Tory backrooms.
“It appears much of the Rob Batherson network is moving towards Cecil. But Rob is going to take his time deciding,” says a Clarke organizer. Batherson is a Halifax businessman, who ran in Halifax Citadel in the last election.
Up and coming PC toiler, lawyer Richard Norman, who practices with Cox & Palmer is working for Clarke. He is a past president of the PC association in Halifax Armdale.
Clarke’s support base includes former Colchester North MLA Bill Langille, and there is also support for Clarke down on the South Shore, as top Tory Donna Malone is backing the Sydney mayor’s expected leadership bid.
She is the president of the Lunenburg West Tory association.
Rodney MacDonald’s former transportation minister Brooke Taylor, in the Musquodoits is lending his name to Clarke’s campaign. That puts Taylor at odds with another Musquodoboit Tory, Andy Smith, who is a keen organizer for PC leadership contender Tim Houston, one of two officially declared contenders. Valley MLA John Lohr is the other declared candidate.
“That’‘s a blow to Andy that Brooke Taylor has come out for Cecil,” says a Clarke top tier organizer.
(Taylor, who was a master of the 30-second media clip, recently saw his 40-something son die over the holidays after suffering a massive heart attack.)
Party stalwart Joyce MacDougall, a Caper, is backing Clarke, while another prominent Caper, Port Hawkesbury lawyer Adam Rogers, is going to stay neutral and take on a position overseeing the leadership convention. He is part of a committee that includes Argyle-Barrington MLA Chris d’Entremont.
Clarke has recently been touring the party, meeting with card carrying Tory members.
To no surprise, Sherry Richard of Colchester North is keenly backing Clarke. She was a former aide to Brooke Taylor.
Clarke is also getting a big endorsement from long tim and very popular politico Gerald Keddy, who served as South Shore MP from 1997 to 2015. His wife, former Rodney MacDonald cabinet minister Judy Streatch, will lend considerable electioneering skills to Clarke, as well.
“We have lots of South Shore support,” says the Clarke organizer. “It’s looking very good.”
The Clarke organizer says there is “also a lot of support in Jamie Baillie’s Cumberland South. That includes Dan Smith, Russell Fisher, and Troy and Jodie Henwood, who are all part of the Baillie network.”
Pat Nickerson, president of the PC association in Shelburne is on the Clarke bus, too.
Trevor Cunningham, president of the Tory association in Yarmouth is working for Clarke, and John Carey, former MLA for Kings West is voting for Clarke.
Argyle-Barrington Tory organizer Cathy Clarke has also come out to endorse Cecil Clarke.