Who Tim Houston might pick to join his Nova Scotia cabinet

·5 min read
Nova Scotia Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Houston waves to supporters after winning a majority government in the provincial election at the Pictou County Wellness Centre in New Glasgow, N.S., on Tuesday, Aug. 17, 2021. (Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press - image credit)
Nova Scotia Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Houston waves to supporters after winning a majority government in the provincial election at the Pictou County Wellness Centre in New Glasgow, N.S., on Tuesday, Aug. 17, 2021. (Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press - image credit)

As sure as the change of colours marks the arrival of autumn, a change of government marks the inevitable speculation about who might be appointed to cabinet.

Premier-designate Tim Houston will name his new team Tuesday, Aug. 31, just two weeks after his party's surprise majority win.

With a 31-member Tory caucus that includes health-care workers, teachers, business owners and former municipal politicians, Houston will now have to decide who has the experience and talent to join his inner circle.

Based on conversations with those who have sat at the cabinet table or been part of previous selection processes, here are some educated guesses as to who will surround Houston for the beginning of his first mandate as premier.

When it comes to who will sit on the government front benches, a leader generally considers the following traits:

  • Talent or experience;

  • gender;

  • the geographical area an MLA represents;

  • diversity;

  • loyalty to the party/leader.

Houston has 31 caucus members to choose from, 16 of them returning MLAs.

Robert Short/CBC
Robert Short/CBC

Although Liberal Premier Iain Rankin's current cabinet is made up of 17 people, including the premier, the size of cabinet is not dictated by law or convention. Neither is the number of cabinet responsibilities, what departments are called or how they are structured, which means Houston has the power to create, consolidate or eliminate any portfolio he chooses.

The last time the PCs were in power, under Rodney MacDonald in 2009, 18 of their 21 caucus members were cabinet ministers. That's a far cry from the 11-member PC cabinet John Hamm appointed when he took over a decade earlier.

So it's unclear how many cabinet jobs there will be and how many responsibilities those cabinet ministers will shoulder.

Given those caveats, here are some possible cabinet choices, the portfolios they may be asked to oversee and why they may get those jobs.

Paramedic, farmer and teacher

Tim Houston will likely assume the positions that traditionally go to the premier, including president of the Executive Council, minister of Intergovernmental Affairs and minister of L'nu Affairs.

Karla MacFarlane, as a one-time interim leader, has earned the right to be named deputy premier and to hold a major portfolio such as minister of Community Services or Finance.

Colton LeBlanc is a former paramedic who has acquitted himself very well in the House. Houston will need a solid performer with boundless energy in the Health Department. LeBlanc may be asked to take on that responsibility.

Tim Halman is a former teacher who was the party's education critic. He would be a natural choice as Education minister.

John Lohr is a farmer and former leadership contender who would be a natural fit as minister of Agriculture and/or Fisheries.

Allan MacMaster was caucus House Leader, responsible for shepherding legislation through the legislature. Those organizational skills could be put to use as minister of Finance. He is fluent in Gaelic so he is likely to handle the Gaelic Affairs portfolio, whatever other job he gets. (He could also be expected to continue in his role as House leader, only this time it would be for the government.)

Brian Comer's experience as a mental health and addictions nurse would make him a perfect fit to oversee a new department of Addictions and Mental Health. The creation of a separate department was a key plank in the PC platform.

Steve Craig's time as the municipal representative on the Halifax Regional Municipality's Board of Police Commissioners might give him the experience he needs to be minister of Justice. Kim Masland's experience as senior safety coordinator for Queen's County might make her a contender for that job, too. As a rural representative, she may also be in line for Transportation minister.

Tory Rushton was the PC critic for Lands and Forestry and may be tagged with those responsibilities, given his familiarity with the portfolio. He also remained steadfast in his support for Houston and his party when Elizabeth Smith-McCrossin was tossed from caucus. He took a lot of heat for that during the Highway 104 blockade and its aftermath.

Barbara Adams has been a passionate advocate for seniors and could take over responsibility for a beefed up Department of Seniors, which could include some oversight of long-term care.

Brad Johns, as environment critic, may take on those duties in government.

Susan Corkum-Greek knocked off the Liberal minister of Communities Culture and Heritage and could also inherit that job from Suzanne Lohns-Croft.

Jill Balser's experience in, and passion for, community development could land her the job of minister responsible for Economic Development or Business. She would be following in her father Gordie Balser's footsteps. He was a PC cabinet minister between 1999 and 2003. Dave Ritcey is also a contender for those portfolios.

Other contenders

Other caucus members who may be in line for a cabinet job or other reward for their loyalty and support for Houston include:

Pat Dunn, the only sitting member with cabinet experience. (He was minister of Health Promotion in Rodney MacDonald's government)

Larry Harrison, the United Church minister who represents Colchester-Musquodoboit Valley, is starting his third term.

John White, an early leadership supporter from Cape Breton.

Keith Bain, who as a one-time deputy Speaker could land the job of Speaker of the House.

Michelle Thompson, the Antigonish nursing home CEO who defeated Justice Minister Randy Delorey.

Chris Palmer or Melissa Sheehy-Richard. Both won seats in the Annapolis Valley and geography will work in their favour.

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