Five-person leadership race swells N.S. PC ranks to more than 10,000

Most Tory leadership hopefuls aren't eyeing hard-right turns

Who will win Nova Scotia's Progressive Conservative Party leadership race next month is still a mystery, but the party itself has already won big by having five people vie for the job.

Together the leadership teams have brought thousands of new members into the party, which can now boast a membership of more than 10,000 people. The cut off for new members to vote in next month's leadership race was Tuesday evening.

Party President Tara Miller is elated with the numbers.

"I think it's a really positive reflection of the vast ideas that the five different candidates have presented," she said, just before the start of the party's fifth leadership forum in Bridgewater Tuesday evening.

Miller said the job now was to harness that enthusiasm for individual candidates and keep the new members engaged beyond the leadership vote on Oct. 27.

"I mean the real work for this party starts on October the 28th after we've picked our new leader and ensuring that unity of the party continues and we move forward with the that bigger goal of forming government in the next election," she said.

"Certainly something we're cognizant of and we're going to be working hard to make sure those people do still are engaged regardless of what candidate they supported."

For leadership hopeful and Cumberland North MLA Elizabeth Smith-McCrossin the membership boost was not a surprise.

"Our leadership is doing exactly what we intended [it] to do and that's to build the PC Party of Nova Scotia stronger than we've ever seen it before," she said.

As for the other candidates, each offered a variation on the same theme as to why so many are eager to join a party which has been in opposition now for almost a decade.

"It says people are interested, people are engaged in the process and they want to hear ideas about how we can improve this province and they're willing to put $10 down and join a political process to have their say," said Tim Houston, MLA Pictou East.

"It's hugely positive for the PC Party of Nova Scotia," said Kings North MLA and leadership candidate John Lohr. "It says that people are interested."

"People want an alternative. People are not happy with the Liberals federally or provincially."

It was the same sentiment from Julie Chaisson, executive director of the Halifax Seaport Farmers' Market.

"I think it says people want to be engaged again and I think that they want to have a voice," she said.

Win or lose the leadership race, Chaisson pledged to run in the next provincial election.

"Absolutely," she said. "This is my party and I'm very engaged with it and I'm very committed to it."

It was the same promise from the other candidate without a seat in the Nova Scotia legislature, Cape Breton Regional Municipality Mayor Cecil Clarke.

"I've run eight times for the Progressive Conservatives and I will continue to do that," said Clarke.

"I said I would run and I will run."

The last of the PC leadership forums is in Truro on Oct. 10.