Tim Houston styles himself as a ‘progressive’ who will listen

Nova Scotia’s new Tory leader says he already sees his path to power: Listening.

Tim Houston, a former international financial consultant, contrasted his style against the incumbent, Liberal Premier Stephen McNeil, during an interview Tuesday to mark his decisive leadership victory on Saturday.

Houston, a self-described “progressive,” said he’s confident the Progressive Conservatives can form government in three years time if they successfully connect with the public.

“Because people will see themselves in the ideas that we are talking about,” he said. “I think there’s a real opportunity there.”

Listening to people about their expertise and ideas has been “a missing piece in the way we’ve been governed for a while now,” he said.

“We really need to reach out and get the opinions of many people and then of course it’s up to the leader to make the decision,” the 48-year-old MLA for Pictou East said in a telephone interview from his home.

First elected to the provincial legislature in 2013, Houston was re-elected in 2017. He is married and has two children.

A chartered accountant, Houston previously worked in the private sector including as a financial consultant with Deloitte and a lengthy stint in Bermuda where he helped advise a number of international firms.

Houston has his own ideas on what needs to be done in Nova Scotia, including for a health system hindered by persistent doctor shortages, emergency room closures and a lack of access to primary care.

He said the current system was designed with a heavy emphasis on acute care and that has to change to focus more on chronic conditions and prevention given the province’s aging demographic.

“We are spending almost $4.5 billion on health care and we need to make sure we are spending it properly to get the best possible health outcomes,” said Houston. “That’s why the focus on chronic conditions. I think if we focus on prevention and treatment we can help people get healthier.”

He also knows where he stands on a carbon tax for Nova Scotia – he’s steadfastly against it, although he has stopped short of definitively saying he will scrap it if elected premier. He says only that he will make an informed decision based on the information available and the outcome of court challenges by other provinces.

Houston said he believes the carbon tax will be ineffective in a mainly rural province where people need to drive and that has a small industrial base.

“I’m against the carbon tax because I don’t see how it will change consumption patterns,” he said.

“I don’t see how it will make the environmental improvements that they (government) are striving for.”

However, Houston is less specific of what should take its place, saying he favours finding solutions through a renewal of the province’s Environmental Goals and Sustainable Prosperity Act, which touts a balance between industrial development and environmental initiatives.

“We can always do something, but we have to think carefully about what that is,” he said.

Houston won the five-way leadership race after coming just 53 points shy of the 2,550 points needed to win on the first ballot under the convention’s weighted voting system.

A second ballot became unnecessary after runner-up Cecil Clarke conceded the race, and was soon followed by the remaining candidates.

On Tuesday the party’s executive released the total votes for candidates by constituency.

The tally showed that Houston, who was the front-runner heading into the convention, captured 38 of the 51 ridings.

He received 4,568 of the 8,947 votes cast by the party’s membership – 2,092 votes more than the second place finisher Clarke.

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