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Nova Scotia premier says byelection win sign of approval for Tory health care efforts


A Progressive Conservative byelection win in a longtime Liberal stronghold is a sign of approval for the government's record in bolstering health care, Nova Scotia's premier said Wednesday.

Tim Houston was reacting to Tuesday's victory by Tory candidate Twila Grosse, who comfortably won the Preston riding near Halifax over four other candidates.

The riding had been held by the Liberals for most of the last 20 years, but the party fell to third behind the second-place NDP. "I think the message that was sent by the people of Preston was that they know that they have a government that's been with them every step of the way on health care," Houston told reporters. "I think that was reflected in the vote for sure."

The premier added that voters were also unhappy over "punitive" federal carbon pricing, which saw gasoline prices in the province increase about 18 cents a litre last month.

Liberal Leader Zach Churchill said the only reason the Tories won was because they successfully turned the vote in Preston into a plebiscite on the federal carbon tax, which the provincial Liberal party had no hand in.

Churchill took issue with Houston's assertion that the Tories campaigned on the government's record. "The campaign was built around a protest vote against the federal carbon tax, even though the vote in this byelection will not impact that," he said, acknowledging that the Progressive Conservatives ran a "smart and strategic campaign around the issue."

NDP Leader Claudia Chender said her party didn't hear any approval of the Tory record on the doorsteps and she believes voters were more concerned about the cost of living.

"People were certainly ready to move on after a couple of decades of Liberal representation, and people were upset about where they find themselves right now, particularly in terms of the rising cost of everything," Chender said.

She suggested the Tories were able to capitalize on economic concerns by stating that a vote for them was a vote against the Liberal carbon tax. "We all know that wasn't true, it's a federal tax," Chender said.

Unofficial results from Elections Nova Scotia show the Progressive Conservatives captured 1,950 votes, or 45 per cent of votes cast. They were well ahead of the NDP with 1,145 votes and the Liberals with 1,021. With 11,125 registered voters in the riding, turnout for the byelection was just 39 per cent.

Houston was on the defensive after a government staffer responded to the byelection win by retweeting a social media post referring to a "Thousand Year Houston Reich," a reference to Nazi Germany. The staffer, Mitch Maltby, deleted the post shortly afterwards.

"Obviously it was an exuberant staff member that was retweeting a number of things and retweeted something they shouldn't," said Houston. "It's not appropriate, and I understand he's apologized. I think somebody's made a mistake, you accept their apology and you move forward."

But Chender said the premier's characterization of the post as mere exuberance was troubling.

"I certainly hope that this staff member is appropriately disciplined because I think it's unbecoming at the very least for someone employed in a position with this government to share something like that," she said.

Maltby followed up the retweet with an apology.

"Last night while retweeting celebratory messages about the byelection I accidentally retweeted a message with some truly disgusting content," he wrote on social media. "I deeply apologize for amplifying this hurtful language. I promise to do better and review content closer in the future."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 9, 2023. Top Stories

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