Sunday, April 14, 2002 Back The Halifax Herald Limited

Ted Pritchard / Herald Photo
Danny Graham, newly elected leader of the Nova Scotia Liberal party, gives his victory speech on Saturday.

Graham grabs Grit leadership
Lawyer, senator's son wins on first ballot at convention

By Amy Smith and David Jackson / Provincial Reporters

Danny Graham won a decisive victory in Nova Scotia's Liberal leadership race on Saturday, taking the contest on the first ballot.

The Halifax lawyer and son of Senator Al Graham had a margin of nearly 3,000 as he captured 6,846 of the 11,536 valid votes.

Businessman and ex-bureaucrat Francis MacKenzie was second with 3,855, and former broadcaster Bruce Graham finished a distant third with 835 votes.

Of the 11,745 ballots cast, 209 were rejected.

"This will mean a new Liberal government for Nova Scotia," the new leader told a packed ballroom at the Westin Nova Scotian in Halifax. "We can do better and we will do better. We can do it together."

The Sons of Maxwell band welcomed him to the stage with their rendition of Movin' On Up, the theme song from the television show The Jeffersons.

Danny Graham takes the helm of a party that's in third place in the legislature, with 10 of 52 seats, but leads recent opinion polls.

Mr. Graham praised his two opponents for the way they conducted themselves during the campaign.

"They recognized that we need to come together at the end of the day and that this is a family," he said. "They've brought special things to this party."

Mr. MacKenzie and Bruce Graham were quick to throw their support behind him and make his victory unanimous.

Still, Mr. MacKenzie said it was a tough loss.

"I was hoping for a much better number, yes, I'll admit that," he said. "I thought I would have been closer to the 5,000 numbers."

Mr. MacKenzie said an allegation of vote-buying didn't help.

"I learned the very valuable lesson, the power of the media being able to persuade public opinion on a matter," he said.

"That's the part that hurts the most - you're cleared of something and you just can't set the record straight. Once the toothpaste is out of the tube, you can't put it back in."

He was referring to allegations by a Glace Bay food bank worker that someone claiming to be from Mr. MacKenzie's campaign team offered to buy him a membership and pay him $20 to vote. The party investigated and found no wrongdoing.

Mr. MacKenzie said he is still planning to run in the next general election, possibly in the Bedford area.

Bruce Graham, a Hants County novelist, said he was disappointed with his showing.

"If I had got 1,500, 2,000 votes, I would have felt a lot better," he said.

"That's a lot of miles and a lot of community-hall speaking for 800 votes."

He said he knew his competitors had much more money and bigger organizations, so all he could do was run on his ideas - especially talking more to Liberals across the province and eliminating "old-style" politics.

He said he plans to challenge for the Hants West seat in the next election and hopes he can persuade the new leader to adopt some of his ideas along the way.

"I think I've left my stamp on the Liberal party, and Danny has told me more than once that he believes in a lot of the things I say, so I'm going to be there to remind him about them," he said.

Dennis James, a Truro lawyer who pulled out of the race when he saw most of the party's new members were in industrial Cape Breton and figured he couldn't win, said he was feeling "less tender" now that it's over.

"It's always good to see enthusiasm, and I think the size of the victory will be positive for the party," Mr. James said.

The new leader said he's not sure that there's any rush for him to get a seat in the legislature, since the government is already well into its mandate.

"I think it would be a mistake to get distracted by a byelection, knowing you're running into a general election right after that," he said.

Cape Breton West MLA Russell MacKinnon said he'd step aside if the leader wanted to run in his riding, but Mr. Graham said it's premature to speculate where or even if he would run in a byelection.

Caucus members said they stand behind the new leader and look forward to their first meeting with him on Monday.

Wayne Gaudet, the party's interim leader for the past two years, said his advice to Mr. Graham is not to be shy to ask for advice.

"There's a tremendous lot of supporters out there that are willing to help you out. Don't be afraid to ask," Mr. Gaudet said.

Party president Ed Kinley said he believes the Liberals are united behind the new leader.

Mr. Kinley said he hoped the campaign would yield strong candidates in the next election. "That's what I was most concerned about initially, and we've got that. That's what I feel good about."

Copyright © 2002 The Halifax Herald Limited