The politics behind the expulsion of Elizabeth Smith-McCrossin

·4 min read
N.S. MLA Elizabeth Smith-McCrossin was kicked out of the Tory caucus after leading the charge for a border blockade on Highway 104, between Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. (Robert Short/CBC - image credit)
N.S. MLA Elizabeth Smith-McCrossin was kicked out of the Tory caucus after leading the charge for a border blockade on Highway 104, between Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. (Robert Short/CBC - image credit)

When the Conservative Party of Canada was formed, in part out out of the remnants of the federal Progressive Conservative Party, Nova Scotia conservatives took great pains to not only keep the term for the provincial party, but promote the fact they called themselves Progressive Conservatives.

Many provincial party supporters wear their "red Tory" leanings as a badge of honour.

Which may help explain why Elizabeth Smith-McCrossin is no longer welcome in the PC caucus, nor free to run under the party banner in an election which may be only weeks away.

Smith-McCrossin, the MLA for Cumberland North, not only championed, but appeared to lead the charge to block the Trans-Canada Highway near the Nova Scotia-New Brunswick border in a protest that not only stranded hundreds of motorists, but delayed goods from being delivered and forced the cancellation of more than 100 hospital appointments.

Jonathan Villeneuve/CBC
Jonathan Villeneuve/CBC

If that weren't enough, some of the protest organizers were anti-vaccine and anti-lockdown activists and supporters who at one point tried to prevent a truck they thought was carrying vaccines from being escorted through.

PC Leader Tim Houston's initial response was to downplay the involvement of his former leadership rival in the blockade, suggesting her actions were the result of emotions that "flowed over."

"We know that Elizabeth is a very passionate MLA for her constituents," Houston told reporters Wednesday. "She has my support in standing up for her constituents."

Although Houston made it clear blocking a highway was unacceptable, he stopped short of criticizing Smith-McCrossin's actions.

But less than 24 hours later, after two hastily convened caucus meetings to discuss the issue, Houston announced she could no longer sit in his caucus, nor run as a PC candidate.

"The more I learned from Elizabeth about her involvement, the more obvious it became that it's not anything that I support, it's not anything that the PC caucus supports," he told reporters Thursday. "When you know more, you do more."

CBC
CBC

Cape Breton University political scientist Tom Urbaniak said Houston limited the damage, but his initial response was not good.

"Tim Houston put out the fire," he said. "If he had let it go much longer it would have caused lasting damage to the PC brand."

The internal party squabble may have squandered the opportunity to keep the focus on Liberal Premier Iain Rankin's "wobbly management" of the New Brunswick border issue, he said. Rather than be able to take clear shots at the governing Liberals, the party was forced on the defensive with questions about why a PC MLA was supportive of an illegal roadblock.

Tom Ayers/CBC
Tom Ayers/CBC

Dalhousie University's director of the School of Public Administration, Lori Turnbull, agreed: "This could have been a positive week for the PCs, in the sense that the premier has flip-flopped a couple of times, even if you could make the argument that he had a good reason, people are frustrated."

Instead, the party "lost control of the narrative and the story ended up being about them, which is the thing that the opposition is never supposed to do," she said.

Robert Short/CBC
Robert Short/CBC

"It is what it is," said Turnbull. "I don't think at the end of the day this is going to be the end of the world for the PCs."

Both political scientists agree one of the reasons Houston reversed course so quickly was to try to show leadership "maturity."

That's because, since Rankin became premier in February, Houston has repeatedly accused the 38-year-old of not being up to the job.

Turnbull called the blockade an "eye-opener" for those who see Canada's East Coast as unfertile ground for radical politics.

It's clear the PC Party of Nova Scotia did not want, even by association, to be connected to those protesters.

This week, a party that's been at pains to appear moderate and middle-of-the-road — always marrying progressive with conservative — was forced to watch as one of its MLAs stepped far off the beaten track.

 Jonathan Villeneuve/CBC
Jonathan Villeneuve/CBC

Turnbull said the East Coast progressive tenancies could be a valuable export.

"Could really breathe life into the conservative movement nationally around the country and at the national federal level," she said. "I think that Atlantic Canada actually has a lot to offer to the conservative movement in terms of keeping it current, keeping it progressive.

"I would hate to see that get overshadowed by something that happened this week."

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