Political observers across the Maritime provinces are watching the riding of Cumberland North as Nova Scotians head to the polls in a provincial election on August 17th.
Elizabeth Smith-McCrossin is running for re-election in the riding as an independent candidate after being dumped last month by the Progressive Conservatives over her support for protests against provincial border restrictions during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Smith-McCrossin says she decided to run after receiving hundreds of messages on Facebook, by e-mail and phone asking her to continue to fight for her constituents.
“What people were sharing with me is that they were finally happy to see someone stand up for them and try to share their voices and their frustrations from being ignored by the provincial government for 16 months,” Smith-McCrossin said on Friday during an interview at her busy campaign office in downtown Amherst.
“Decisions were being made that impacted the lives of the people here, they were never consulted, neither Premier McNeil or Rankin ever came here to our border community to sit down and understand the needs of the people,” she added.
Smith-McCrossin says that after months of separation from their families in New Brunswick, people in Cumberland North were extremely upset on June 22nd when the Nova Scotia Premier suddenly announced the provincial border would not be re-opening as planned the next day.
That’s when she issued an ultimatum to Iain Rankin on Facebook warning that if the premier didn’t change his mind by 4 p.m., the TransCanada highway would be shut down in protest, not at the provincial border, but as it turned out, at Exit 7 about 30 minutes away.
Smith-McCrossin joined the protesters there at around 4:30 p.m.
She says the RCMP were re-routing traffic at Exit 7 and that as angry as they were, protesters were letting some cars through if they were carrying elderly people, children or those with medical conditions.
“The RCMP also assured me as MLA that it was a legal, peaceful protest because they were able to ensure that people could get around,” Smith-McCrossin adds.
She says that as darkness fell, she urged people to go home, promising that she would drive to Halifax the next day to speak with Rankin directly.
However, when Smith-McCrossin reached Halifax on June 23rd, the premier was out of town and as she continued to wait for him, protesters closed the provincial border blocking medical supplies and giving a platform to anti-vaxxers campaigning against COVID vaccines.
Smith-McCrossin says she issued statements calling for the protesters to stop their blockade, but can understand why they continued it anyway.
“Before the June 23rd border blockade, the people that had set that up, they had been protesting every Sunday there for eight weeks before that and had shut down the border, the highway, on three different occasions trying to get Rankin to listen to them, trying to get someone from the government to pay attention,” she adds.
“It’s been very frustrating for people here; nobody shuts down a highway unless they’re at a point of frustration,” Smith-McCrossin says. “Why would you have grandmothers and business owners standing on a highway protesting?”
As she campaigns for re-election, Smith-McCrossin is clearly hoping that her call for the highway shut down on June 22nd and her refusal to condemn the border blockade the next day will continue to win her voter support.
She won the riding for the Progressive Conservatives in 2017 with 51.7% of the vote.
But this time, as she campaigns for re-election without PC support, she’s up against two opponents with name recognition in Cumberland North.
Veteran Member of Parliament Bill Casey is the candidate for the provincial Liberals, while Lauren Skabar, daughter of former MLA Brian Skabar, is running for the NDP.
So far, no one else is listed by Elections Nova Scotia as an official candidate. Nominations close in two days on July 28 at 2 p.m.
This is the first in a series on the Smith-McCrossin campaign. Warktimes will also be covering the other candidates’ campaigns.