HALIFAX — One of the most prominent items in Jamie Baillie's office, along with the John F. Kennedy portrait and the Sir John A. Macdonald action figure, is a signed baseball from Bill "Spaceman" Lee.
Lee was Baillie's favourite baseball player growing up, and the straight-laced accountant met the eccentric left-hander in the early 1980s, after spotting a poster at Dalhousie University: "Come to a talk by Bill Lee The Spaceman."
Baillie was the only person who showed up.
"Now, as a politician who has gone into a few rooms where there was fewer people than expected, I can imagine how he was feeling," laughed Baillie, Nova Scotia's Progressive Conservative leader.
Instead of getting a speech, Baillie ended up drinking beer with Lee at Dalhousie's Grawood student bar while the pair watched a World Series game together on television.
"He was just a great character," Baillie said of Lee, who as a member of the Boston Red Sox said he sprinkled his pancakes with marijuana. "This is a great memory for me."
Baillie enjoys a good story and a good laugh, standing in contrast to his wider public persona as the buttoned-down, cerebral leader of Nova Scotia's Progressive Conservatives.
But the 51-year-old native of Truro, N.S., seems self-aware and comfortable in his own skin as he leads his party into the May 30 provincial election, his second as leader.
"I'm not off the wall, I embrace that," Baillie said in an interview with The Canadian Press.
"I'm not the most exciting person, but I do enjoy the company of different kinds of people — people that have different life experiences than me. I find that really interesting."
Entering his seventh year as leader, the married father of two teenaged daughters is a self-admitted "political nerd," with a long pedigree in Nova Scotia politics.
While at Dalhousie he was president of the Young Progressive Conservatives, and often sparred on a campus radio panel with former premier Darrell Dexter, who led the Young New Democrats.
But his career really kicked off in earnest after being introduced to John Hamm, who eventually became premier. He served three years, beginning in 2002, as Hamm's chief of staff.
Baillie said while he has his political heroes, it's Hamm he considers as his true mentor.
"You do not need to be a back-slapping, baby-kissing super extrovert to be a good premier, that's one thing I definitely learned from him," Baillie said. "I saw in him someone who had a nice gentlemanly exterior, but a core of steel on the inside."
While making it clear he is "a Tory," Baillie also spoke of his interest in JFK, and about believing in the late Democratic Party president's oft-quoted mantra: "To those whom much is given, much is expected."
A chartered accountant who returned to politics in 2010 after a stint as CEO of Credit Union Atlantic, Baillie said he knows he's been lucky to have had good jobs, and to have come from a good family.
"I do feel you should do something good with that for others, so I buy into that Kennedy philosophy," he said.
"Plus he was just a really cool guy. That obviously has some appeal as well."
Longtime political associate and friend Chris Lydon said it's part of Baillie's makeup that he isn't an ideologue.
Lydon, now vice-president, Nova Scotia, for m5 Public Affairs, said Baillie's management approach hasn't changed much since his time in Hamm's office, and largely relies on collaboration.
"While you never felt he didn't have a steady hand or was unable to be decisive, he certainly seemed to weigh people's opinions without coming in particularly biased or with over-formulated policy ideas," said Lydon.
However, Lydon conceded that the Baillie he knows has been somewhat constrained by the requirements of being the leader of the opposition, and always appearing to be negative.
Indeed, Baillie has never seemed to gain significant traction in polls leading up to the election, and the party under his leadership has languished well behind the Liberals in second place.
But as the May 30 election kicked off Sunday, he pitched himself as a sunny alternative to four years of Liberal austerity.
Getting the voting public to warm to him is critical for Baillie, who may not get a third opportunity to seek power if the party's performance doesn't meet expectations.
He said he's well aware of the political reality, but doesn't dwell on it.
"Ultimately political parties want their leaders to win for them," said Baillie. "I would like to win for my party, but also for all Nova Scotians, and I do believe that we are going to win."
Keith Doucette, The Canadian Press