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Nova Scotia Progressive Conservatives have a new leader after the second place challenger in the five-way race dramatically dropped off the ballot Saturday at the party’s convention in Halifax.

Tim Houston watched as Cecil Clarke strode across the floor with a train of his supporters, minutes after the results of the first ballot left Mr. Houston, the party’s finance critic, just 53 points shy of the 2,550 points needed to win under the convention’s weighted voting system.

Mr. Clarke, who won 1,385 points on the first ballot, told Mr. Houston he conceded early because he wanted to ensure party unity coming out of the convention.

A beaming Mr. Houston said he was grateful for Mr. Clarke’s magnanimous move, which was later seconded by the remaining candidates in the race when they also dropped off the ballot.

“I’m very proud that he [Mr. Clarke] did it,” he said. “This is a high moment. It’s a high moment for the party and I’m really grateful that this happened.”

As a result, Mr. Houston said he was “100 per cent convinced” that he would be leading a united party.

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Cecil Clarke in 2008. (File Photo).Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press

For his part, Mr. Clarke, the mayor of the Cape Breton Regional Municipality and a former Tory cabinet minister, said he knew what he needed to do after the first ballot.

“I believe in bringing this party together and it’s about the next election,” Mr. Clarke said to reporters.

“The party is bigger than any one person and it’s bigger than me and I am happy to support our new leader Tim Houston.”

Mr. Houston, 48, a chartered accountant, positioned himself during the nearly year-long campaign as the best candidate to take on the governing Liberals in the next election, expected sometime in 2021.

Mr. Houston was first elected to the provincial legislature are the MLA for Pictou East in 2013 and he was re-elected in 2017. The Pictou County resident is married and has two children.

The perceived front-runner was the first into the race, jumping in soon after former leader Jamie Baillie announced that he was stepping down last November. Mr. Baillie later resigned in January amid unspecified allegations of inappropriate behaviour.

As a result of his aggressive style and status, Mr. Houston often became the target of his opponents through a series of six debates held across the province.

On Saturday, Mr. Houston said he was sure there wouldn’t be any acrimony in the future.

Candidates and fellow caucus members John Lohr and Elizabeth Smith-McCrossin had been particularly critical. During the campaign they pledged second-choice support to each other and were clear that their supporters should follow their lead.

“I think that’s over now,” Mr. Houston said. “The race is over and we are caucus colleagues . . . and we will just get to work and get going on the things that matter to Nova Scotians.”

Mr. Lohr placed a distant third in first ballot voting with 692 points, followed by Ms. Smith-McCrossin with 384 points, while candidate Julie Chaisson finished last with 140 points and was automatically dropped.

A total of 8,947 votes were cast with 208 recorded as spoiled.

Party officials said more than 76 per cent of votes cast on the first ballot were done so in advanced voting.

The contest was conducted through a combination of ranked ballots and weighted ridings. Each of the province’s 51 constituencies counted for 100 points, allocated according to the proportion of votes each candidate received from that riding.

Nicole LaFosse, Mr. Houston’s director of communications, said the key to his victory was a strong ground game in the drive to sign up new party memberships, particularly in the metro Halifax area.

“There were 22 constituencies in the metro area and we knew that had to be a focus,” said Ms. LaFosse. “We had a range and we fell within that range on the first ballot for sure.”

Four of the five candidates in the race ran what could be described as middle-of-the-road campaigns, the lone exception being Mr. Lohr who positioned himself as an unabashed Conservative.

Mr. Houston said it would be his goal to lead a big tent party as the Tories, who are currently the official Opposition, target winning government in the next election.

“There’s room for every Nova Scotian in this process and in this party,” he said. “We listen to all ideas and it doesn’t mean that we agree with all ideas, but it means that we listen enough to assess them and move forward.”

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