Nova Scotia Liberal Brendan Maguire crosses floor to join Tory cabinet

HALIFAX — One of the Nova Scotia government’s most outspoken Opposition critics did a political about-turn Thursday, crossing the floor to join the Progressive Conservatives — and become a cabinet minister.

Following a cabinet meeting in Halifax, Premier Tim Houston introduced Liberal member Brendan Maguire as the government’s new minister of community services. Maguire will replace Trevor Boudreau, who is leaving the portfolio for unspecified “personal and health reasons," Houston said.

In his first exchange with reporters as a Tory, Maguire said he's focused on "producing results."

“It became increasingly difficult for me to be critical of a government and a premier whose actions I’ve approved of.”

The longtime member of the legislature for Halifax Atlantic said he was approached by Houston on Sunday about making the move.

“He (Houston) felt I could contribute to the community services portfolio based on my experience,” said Maguire, who has been open in the past about growing up in foster care and being homeless for a period as a teenager.

“I bring a unique perspective,” he said.

Maguire was first elected to the legislature in 2013 and was re-elected in 2017 and 2021. He served as minister of municipal affairs in the previous Liberal government of Iain Rankin. While in Opposition, he was critical of the Tories for their failure to raise income assistance and for what he said was the government's slow reaction to the lack of affordable housing.

However, Maguire said Thursday he is confident he can better advocate for his constituents as part of the government, adding that he wasn’t dissatisfied with the Liberals or leader Zach Churchill.

“I have a lot of respect for those (Liberal) members and a lot of respect for Zach,” Maguire said. “Obviously, it’s not what the Liberal party would want, but I have nothing but respect and a lot of great memories.”

Houston said Maguire would be an asset in his new portfolio, describing him as someone who has “brought solutions forward.”

“My thinking is what’s best for the province,” the premier said. “Party lines don’t really mean anything to me in this role. At this moment in time I feel Brendan can do the job with the issues that we are facing and affordability is one of them.”

Churchill said Maguire told him about his decision to defect about 10 minutes before the announcement was made.

“I certainly was surprised because I worked with Brendan for 10 years,” Churchill said. “I know that his political values do align with our party and he’s certainly been one of the most vocal critics of the current government.”

In spite of his surprise, the Liberal leader adopted a conciliatory tone and wished Maguire luck with his political switch.

“I hope that he’s successful with it because we’ve seen poverty get worse in Nova Scotia and we’ve seen food insecurity get worse. Homelessness has doubled over the last two years and I think this is in part because of the Houston government’s lack of attention to this.”

With Maguire’s move, the Progressive Conservatives gain one seat in the legislature for a total of 33, the Liberals fall to 15, the NDP have six, and there is one Independent.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 22, 2024.

Keith Doucette, The Canadian Press