Cannabis use will be forbidden at sporting venues in Nova Scotia, except one – golf courses.
The opposition Tories, led by Karla MacFarlane tried mightily last week in the legislature to pry loose the government’s reason for the singular exception from an otherwise sweeping prohibition on pot where Nova Scotians gather for fun and games.
The attempt was determined and futile. The government remained unmoved to explain the special treatment for golf courses and opened a door best left closed to quips about high links and driving while stoned.
MacFarlane has been a resolute champion of educational programs and regulatory vigor in the approaching legal cannabis market. That effort underscores the surprise of the spring session of the legislature – MacFarlane’s first-rate performance as leader of the official opposition.
With her party in the formative stages of a leadership race, her decision to forego a bid for the job made MacFarlane a logical choice to serve as interim leader, but few would have predicted that her previously uncertain political skills would prove to be quite so considerable.
Liberals are happy MacFarlane’s tenure as Tory leader is limited. Politically astute members on the government side recognize that, if she performs on the hustings nearly as well as she has in the legislature, MacFarlane would be a formidable opponent and provide a viable alternative to Premier Stephen McNeil.
She directed a deft attack on the government’s bill to regulate legal cannabis and managed to walk a delicate political tightrope, advocating more common-sense regulation of cannabis, without appearing to oppose legalization.
In addition to leaving the government dumb on the golf course exemption, she held the Liberals’ feet to the fire on other sensible collateral measures while fuelling doubt about the sincerity of government’s claim that health and safety is its primary objective in cannabis regulation.
The government majority defeated her amendments, including one to force a 90-day public education program prior to legalization. The government maintains that public education will be an integral part of Nova Scotia’s legal pot environment, and MacFarlane succeeded in raising suspicions that the province isn’t as ready as it could be for legal cannabis.
Last week, MacFarlane also showed the teeth often required of an opposition leader, when she asked Internal Affairs Minister Patricia Arab to resign over her department’s handling of a security lapse that exposed Nova Scotians’ personal information. The breach occurred a month before it was accidentally discovered.
It was clear from her demeanor that she didn’t relish the blood-sport of politics, but she didn’t shrink from the duty either. In the circumstances, the question was legitimate, and MacFarlane put it directly to the minister, asked it once and moved on.
Three members of the Tory caucus in the legislature are vying for the leadership. The job of ensuring none has an uneven opportunity in the legislature to shine, belongs to MacFarlane and House Leader Chris d’Entremont. For the most part they succeeded, although two of the contenders held slight advantages associated with their critic responsibilities.
Finance critic Tim Houston (Pictou East) quarterbacks the opposition in the high profile public accounts committee and Elizabeth Smith-McCrossin (Cumberland North) is the party’s health critic which offers a lot of potential for profile. But John Lohr (Kings North) held his own with ample opportunity to display his command of issues and an equanimity that will appeal to Tories who fondly remember John Hamm’s leadership.
Cape Breton Mayor Cecil Clarke and Julie Chaisson, who ran for the Conservatives in Chester St. Margaret’s last year, round out the field. Clarke is considered among the early front-runners.
Whoever wins will have a party to unite, and two years to put together a team and a program to challenge McNeil’s Liberals and a resurgent NDP.
The Conservatives’ problem is Halifax, where they won just one suburban seat in 2017, along with two on the Dartmouth side of the harbour. With 20 of the province’s 51 seats in the Halifax Regional Municipality, the Tories need to make deeper inroads if they hope to form the government after the next election.
Tory insiders watching the spring session can be excused for wistfully wondering what could have been had MacFarlane decided she wanted the job for keeps.
Jim Vibert, a journalist and writer for longer than he cares to admit, consulted or worked for five Nova Scotia governments. He now keeps a close and critical eye on provincial and regional powers.