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When will Jamie Baillie be premier? 

The Progressive Conservative leader gets a second—and maybe last—shot at forming Nova Scotia’s government.

click to enlarge PC leader Jamie Baillie (right).
  • PC leader Jamie Baillie (right).

Failure is not an option for Jamie Baillie.

“Oh, we’re going to win,” he says. “I’m in this to win.”

This election will be the Progressive Conservative leader’s second attempt to form a government. He might not get a third. The goal is a PC majority. Anything less, Baillie will need to atone for. Honestly, you’d think he’d be more stressed.

“One thing I’ve learned is when everyone else is going crazy, it’s the job of the leader to be the most calm, and to think things through,” he says, a week-and-change out from Election Day. “It’s one of the things a campaign puts a leader through that helps them be a better premier.”

And exactly what kind of a premier would Jamie Baillie be? The chartered accountant was previously chief of staff to former premier John Hamm. He was elected PC leader in 2010, a few months before winning his seat at Province House in the Cumberland South by-election. Since then he’s ushered the Tories back into official opposition status after the 2013 collapse of the NDP and the Liberal’s ascension to power.

His tenure has seen the party emphasize the ‘progressive’ in Progressive Conservatives. Baillie and his team have been front-and-centre at protests decrying rape culture and righteously argued in the Legislature on behalf of labour unions assembling outside the building in fury.

The right-wing party’s race to the centre will inevitably mine some left-leaning voters, pissed off with an austere government that’s liberal in name only. But the ideological shift poses an equal risk of souring old-school party faithful who like their Tories a little less red.

“I know the party is with me on these social issues,” says Baillie, dismissing those concerns. “It’s just the right thing to do.”

Those are conflicting statements, of course. There will be times when the party’s desires and the “right thing to do” won’t align. Often for the Liberals, those impasses have meant McNeil’s way or the twinned-highway. Baillie is hoping to rule more softly, by consensus.

“I think we’ve learned from Mr. McNeil that top-down ordering people around doesn’t work. It leaves wounds,” he says. “So that’s his style, and he’ll account for that. Mine is to reach out and work with people, which I believe is the modern and more effective way.”

Right now the Conservatives and Liberals are neck-and-neck, but it’s been a sluggish climb up the polls over the past four years. And that’s even with the deep reservoir of ammunition provided by blowing up the film industry, locking-out schoolchildren, and fending off perpetual Province House protests. When it comes to unseating a government, the Liberals are ripe for the picking.

Mr. McNeil's style is to pick fights with people; to insult teachers, nurses, doctors, to turn his back on the film industry,” says Baillie. “My style is very different. I want to work with people to make the province better... to me, the party labels are not the thing right now. It's the leadership styles that this election is really all about.”

Baillie says his job as leader of the opposition is to “give voice to those people.” How effective he’s been in that role will always be debatable. Could the Tories have capitalized more effectively on the Liberals’ blunders? Time will tell. Should this election be a sure-thing, not a photo-finish? Maybe.

Like so much of Jamie Baillie’s future, those answers are not yet known. He may lead the province with a collaborative, open-door approach to governing. He may lose.

If unsuccessful in toppling the Liberals, Baillie doesn’t know whether he’ll step down as leader. “I’ve given it no thought,” he says. But it wouldn’t be a stretch to think other party members have.

The Conservatives are banking on vision, action and Baillie being enough to sway voters. Only one of those three is easily replaced.

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The PC platform

-A $1 billion Rebuild Nova Scotia fund to replace the VG hospital, twin highways and deliver high-speed internet to rural communities.
-Tuition relief for doctors and nurse practitioners in under-serviced communities will be doubled, and mental health services expanded to all high schools.
-A “no boondoggle” guarantee to automatically conduct independent audits on any project that goes 10 percent over-budget and make the results public.
-Bill 75, which imposed a contract on teachers, will be repealed and $20 million set aside for classroom improvements used to hire more educational assistants.
-A new Clean Air Act would set emission standards, without imposing a carbon tax.

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