I was leaning against a meeting room wall on the ramparts of Citadel Hill last week when businessman Bill Black waltzed in to the strains of the Stones’ Paint It Black. About 75 portly, south end Tories applauded enthusiastically as Mick and the boys wailed about death and depression. “I see the girls walk by dressed in their summer clothes/I have to turn my head until my darkness goes…I look inside myself and see my heart is black.” It wasn’t long before pinstriped Bill had sauntered to the podium to confirm that yes, he wanted to turn everything Black—party, premier and province. The bespectacled 54-year-old former life insurance promoter hopes to fill John Hamm’s tiny shoes when the NS Tories elect a new leader in February. Black promised he would be a leader who listens, balances the budget, speaks nicely to the opposition, builds a strong party and runs a clean ship—a political vision worthy of Robbie Burns’ wee, sleekit, timorous mousie, especially in a province where we need something decisive done about the growing divide between rich and poor. Black’s myopia was a big hit, however, with the journalistic comedy duo of Dave Rodenhiser (Daily News) and Marilla Stephenson (Herald). They opined next day that his performance had been “impressive.” “Bill Black looks and sounds like a premier” (Rodenhiser). “He is accomplished, obviously intelligent and personable” (Stephenson).
@RE| Body\: regular:Two days later, I was admiring the clean lines and hard edges of Thierry Delva’s Box Works sculptures in the white-walled basement of the Art Gallery when veteran Tory politician Neil LeBlanc sidled in. As LeBlanc shook hands with some of his 100-or-so supporters, I took in the surreal scene: White sculptures, white room and a candidate whose name means white en francais. It was the morning after two girls, 14 and 15, had been killed when the all-terrain vehicle they were riding rolled down an embankment in rural Hants County. As the papers pointed out, the politically accident-prone Hamm had been defending his government’s decision to allow 14-year-olds to continue driving ATVs about an hour before the fatal crash. Now, Hamm’s former finance minister was going to announce that he too wanted the premier’s job and journalists were out in force to quiz him about ATVs.
The 49-year-old LeBlanc took up his position in front of Thierry Delva’s multi-coloured sculptures of high-powered rifle and shotgun cases uneasily. “I’m coming out shooting,” he declared before launching into a speech so packed with platitudes that even Marilla and Dave weren’t impressed. “I will be open to new ideas and new approaches for meeting the many challenges we collectively face,” he proclaimed. Later LeBlanc, an Acadian from southwestern NS who quit politics two years ago after 14 years as an MLA and eight as a cabinet minister, ducked the ATV issue, saying he favoured another review of Tory policy. Rodenhiser labelled his performance “underwhelming.” Stephenson warned that “a lack of vision could be just the stuff to bring a front-runner tumbling down.”
So far, the media consensus is that LeBlanc is the front runner. A third (likely) candidate, 33-year-old Rodney MacDonald, a cabinet minister and Cape Breton fiddler, isn’t considered much of a threat, although he could influence the outcome by throwing his support one way or the other. What gets me is that none of the candidates seems to be offering anything more at the moment than warmed-over Hamm. Even Hamm admits, for example, that welfare rates are too low, with payments thousands of dollars below the poverty line. But the front-running candidates aren’t likely to do much for poor people, judging by all the platitudes they spout about pinching pennies and balancing books. In the race between Monsieur Noire and Mr. White, I’m afraid there’s a lot of grey. Paint It Black or Paint It Blanc. Either way the main Tory leadership contestants look much the same to me.
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