By Andrew Macdonald
In the significant ‘get’ department this week in the Progressive Conservative leadership race, Elizabeth Smith-McCrossin got a big endorsement from Rob Batherson, who now is her campaign co-chair, serving alongside former Cumberland-Colchester MP Scott Armstrong.
An equity owner of ad agency Colour, Batherson ran in Halifax Citadel for the Tories in the last election, and increased the Tory vote margin from the 2013 outing.
Batherson’s blog outlining reasons for his support of Smith-McCrossin is carried in its entirety below, but I spoke with him this week to explore further why he is endorsing the first-term MLA for Cumberland North.
Batherson was asked by me how difficult it was to endorse a candidate for the PC leadership, especially since as late as January he was still mulling over his own leadership run.
“Well look, you never want to deliver bad news to anybody (he informed the other candidates of his endorsement). The other candidates were very generous and they are good people. We are well served as a party and province that they have offered themselves up.
“But I felt it was really important if I came to a conclusion as to who I felt in my heart and head who I felt would be best to lead the party and the province, that I get behind that individual,” says Batherson.
“But it was a difficult decision. Each of the candidates is talented in different ways. Some, like Cecil Clarke, I’ve known for 20 years, and I have friends in the PC party who are working for other campaigns,” he tells The Macdonald Notebook.
“So, it was a tough decision from that standpoint. But it was not tough doing the analysis at the end of the day, to really feel in my heart and head that Elizabeth is the best choice,” he said.
The Macdonald Notebook asked Batherson if a shortcoming of Smith-McCrossin’s campaign is that she has only been an MLA since May.
“Not at all. I don’t think you can say longevity in the Legislature necessarily translates into being a great premier and effective leader.
“When Robert Stanfield became leader of our party, he did not have a seat in the Legislature. When John Hamm became leader of our party, he had only two-plus years of experience, combined with 30 years of medical experience.
“John Buchanan had less than four years of legislative experience when he became leader in 1971,” adds Batherson.
“There are lots of examples of leaders who don’t necessarily have lengthy experience in the Legislature,” he tells The Macdonald Notebook.
“What Elizabeth has is lengthy experience in life, as a leader in health care, (and) as a small business owner,” he says.
“The fact she has owned and operated four successful businesses on Main Street in Amherst I think will be very appealing to business owners who care about our downtowns, whether it is downtown Halifax or downtown Dartmouth or other urban centres in small towns across the province,” says Batherson.
“She is the only candidate that has that great experience of business and health care, one of the two biggest issues our province is facing: The worst economic growth in Canada under the current government, and a crisis in healthcare with doctors who are leaving the province over the last four or five years,” he said.
Smith-McCrossin has been a nurse for 27 years, and her husband Murray McCrossin is a physician.
“She sees both sides of the equation,” says Batherson.
Several key election workers on Batherson’s run for Halifax-Citadel last spring are supporting other leadership contenders.
This includes his former campaign manager, Rob Belliveau, with leadership contender Tim Houston. (Belliveau is not related to McInnes Cooper lawyer Rob Belliveau.)
Batherson’s spring media worker Allison Garber is also on the Houston team, while Batherson election warriors David Henderson and Cameron MacKeen are backing Cecil Clarke, the two-term mayor of Sydney.
“In case of Rob (Belliveau) his relationship with Tim Houston is longer than our relationship. I certainly had lots of people telling me throughout 2017 that they were good friends. I wasn’t surprised he is supporting Tim,” says Batherson.
“We had very warm discussions on Wednesday night when I gave him the first call that I was moving in this direction (to support Smith-McCrossin),” he adds.
“People have to keep in mind we’re picking different candidates, but we’re all part of the same Progressive Conservative family.
“I am supporting another leadership contender, and I expect if Elizabeth wins she will be able to commanding that same level of support that I will be providing if one of the other four candidates wins,” Batherson concludes.