Former MP Roseanne Skoke, now a candidate for the Nova Scotia Liberal Party leadership, says if the provincial party wants to avoid the sort of collapse that wiped out federal Grit representation in the province on June 2, they’d be well advised to support her at the leadership convention in Halifax on July 11-12.
“Enough is enough,” says Ms. Skoke, 43, who warns that “going with the status quo” by selecting an “establishment candidate” like former finance and health minister Bernie Boudreau or former MP Russell MacLellan as party leader, would be a formula for oblivion.
Ms. Skoke earned national notoriety as a freshman backbench MP by forcefully opposing her own government’s Bills C-33 and C-41 which granted specific human rights and anti-discrimination protection to homosexuals. She is a devout Catholic and staunchly opposed to abortion and the “normalization” of homosexuality in society, but bristles at being characterized as a “one or two issue candidate” by the media and other critics.
She has struck a resonant chord with rank and file party members at a series of leadership campaign forums with her grass roots populist message, and her proposal to reform the provincial civil service bureaucracy, making it more accountable to the public, has even received grudging praise from some of her media enemies.
Ms. Skoke says that: “Without doubt, the Harmonized Sales Tax is one of the worst moves the Savage government has made,” a view shared by many Nova Scotia families beleaguered by the Liberals’ new 15 per cent levy on necessities like gasoline, home heating fuel, electric power, and children’s clothing. She thinks that John Savage was also mistaken to try and eliminate patronage in government hiring, another point which gets enthusiastic agreement from many long-time Liberals.
Ms. Skoke lost the Liberal nomination for the new riding federal Pictou-Antigonish-Guysborough last March 22, after her Central Nova seat was eliminated in electoral redistribution. Defeated by fellow Liberal MP Francis LeBlanc on the strength of some 200 homosexual-rights activists who became “instant Liberals” to vote against her, she lost by 147 votes.
To succeed in her quest to replace John Savage as provincial premier, Roseanne Skoke first must get past the gay lobby, which has re-mobilized to try and derail a Skoke victory by busily signing up new Liberal convention delegates and erecting billboards with a photo of Ms. Skoke behind the circle-slash symbol and the logo: “No Skoking.”
A coalition of pro-life, pro-family voters has also quietly recruited new Liberal Party members and delegates to support Ms. Skoke at the July convention and telephone vote. This involves a significant financial commitment, since a party membership costs $10 plus $25 to attend the convention. It has been rumoured that the hefty tariff was put in place to discourage Skoke supporters, most of whom are not wealthy.
Despite being characterized by the hostile mainstream media as “divisive,” Ms. Skoke has succeeded in attracting a remarkably diverse coalition of supporters. A case in point is her campaign manager, Brian Knight, a former NDPer who actually managed the campaign of Ms. Skoke’s NDP opponent in the 1993 federal election. Mr. Knight says that he was so impressed by the way Ms. Skoke helped his son iron out a university student loan problem, he didn’t hesitate to say “yes” when she approached him to join her team.
Fran Wambolt of Dartmouth, N.S., spent many hours on the telephone phoning potential Skoke supporters and asking them to sign Liberal membership cards before the June 11 deadline. Mrs. Wambolt, a lifelong Tory supporter, says she never thought she would find herself campaigning for a Liberal, but that Ms. Skoke’s pro-life, pro-family stand brought her on side.
Carol Christian of REAL Women Nova Scotia is another Skoke supporter. Mrs. Christian and her husband, Jim, are long-time pro-life activists who have campaigned for the Christian Heritage Party and the Tories in the past. “Nova Scotia needs a leader who recognizes that the family is the basic building block of any strong society,” says Mrs. Christian. “We need someone who is willing to listen to the people, rather than make decisions by being pressured by bureaucrats and special interest groups. I think Roseanne would be a big improvement over what we’ve had for many years.”
What sort of policies would Roseanne Skoke promote as Premier of Nova Scotia? In an interview, she discussed some of her ideas and policies. She is developing a policy document to be called “Manifesto 2000,” and I asked her if she could tell The Interim a bit about what it will contain.
“[Manifesto 2000] would be a public declaration of principles, which would state clearly what my agenda is on issues from natural resources to employment to health care,” she said. “Most politicians’ agendas are hidden. Manifesto 2000 will disclose exactly what mine is. It will include a declaration concerning the rights of the family…Nearly all legislation impacts on families. I would establish a department for families to address the practical effect of legislation on families,” Ms. Skoke says one example would be an extension of existing programs that subsidize daycare to provide equal support to those who opt for child care in the home by a parent.
Another of Ms. Skoke’s proposals is a system of education vouchers. “A voucher system would allow parents to make a conscious decision about what sort of education their children would receive,” she says. The vouchers would provide funding support for denominational parochial schools and for home schooling, as well as for public schools, says Ms. Skoke, thus giving less-than-wealthy parents real education options. She also believes that parents should have more say over curriculum, whatever sort of school their children attend.
Ms. Skoke says she would also move to reverse the trend to educational centralization that has seen small schools in rural communities close, with children bussed to large consolidated schools, if parents desire. Small local schools would have to offer “no frills education,” Ms. Skoke said, without expensive gyms and labs.
Skoke says she wants to inspire a new populism in politics. “I intend to act as an advocate and defender of the interests of the common people,” she said. “The key word her is advocate,” she added, saying that she chooses the term “common people” for two reasons.
- “Common” is the antithesis of “special interest.”
- “Common” is also distinct from “elite” or “establishment,” by which she means those who can exercise financial power and political influence to get what they want.
Ms. Skoke promises to enact legislation to protect the rights of the unborn in Nova Scotia. “The rights of the unborn are basic human rights; the most fundamental right is the right to life,” she says. “The rights of the child in its mother’s womb should be protected by legislation.” I asked her if she would attempt to terminate funding for the Morgentaler abortion clinic in Halifax. She did not want to answer this directly, but commented: “We should not finance or facilitate abortion in the Province of Nova Scotia.”
I asked Roseanne Skoke why she has not considered switching to another political party, since the Liberal Party establishment obviously does not support her pro-life and pro-family views. “Party politics is why no progress is being made on family and right to life issues in Canada,” she answered. “None of the major political parties has a pro-life, pro-family policy. Changing parties would be futile. The real task is to change the political will of the country.”
:If elected as leader of the Liberal Party and Premier of Nova Scotia,” she continued, “I will determine what the policy of the party will be on these as well as other issues.” The question is, of course, whether there is enough support out there from pro-life and pro-family people to put her in that position. She noted that while special-interest groups were busy signing up votes to oppose her in the leadership race, “Christians tend to frown upon politics and don’t get involved.”
In response to the suggestion that Roseanne Skoke is trying to impose her personal religious convictions on society at large, she stated, “All of the views I advocate politically are based on Canadian law and natural law – the preamble to Canada’s Constitution affirms the supremacy of God and therefore entrenches natural law. The state has taken over the jurisdiction of the church on moral matters, and by the church I mean inclusive of all denominations. I don’t so much blame the state for this. The church is to blame for letting it happen. I am trying to arouse the conscience of the voter, and to see if I can awaken the sleeping giant of the church.”