He envies the eagle floating in the late afternoon breeze coming in off the Minas Basin.
Scott Brison would like to soar as high, see as far.
He stands on the shore, the Fundy tide just beginning to rise. Bathing here one morning in the open, outdoor shower he has built at his beach house, he could see all the way to Cape Blomidon, all the way across the wide brown basin to Parrsboro on the far shore.
Yet he wants even more.
He wants to build a towering structure in the woods that rise back of the rolling fields of hay and clover that his father, the local grocer, picked up for $2,200 in the early 1950s. He wants to build above the tree tops, a home strong enough to stand up to the shifting winds, round enough to allow vision in all directions.
Different, like him.
Never let it be said Scott Brison lacks ambition. In elementary school, he gave a speech to the local 4-H club that quoted, as inspirational talks invariably do, the likes of Mark Twain and Will Rogers, but where the most powerful words were his own.
"Iron rusts from disuse," he said at 12 years of age. "Stagnant water loses its purity. And inaction saps the vigour of the mind. To be successful one must be ready for hard work, must have integrity and must have a good attitude. If you have the will to win, you've achieved half your success. If you don't have the will to win, you've achieved half your failure."
"I still believe in that now," he said, smiling at the old speech his parents kept all these years.
He is 39 now, so filled with will to win that, in another hour or so, he will be introduced to several hundred locals as not just the next leader of the Liberal Party of Canada but "the next prime minister of Canada." They will not only cheer but they will dance as the most unusual, certainly most entertaining, of the 10 candidates to succeed Paul Martin takes to the microphone and begins belting out Johnny Cash's I Walk the Line.
They have come for Mr. Brison's annual barbecue and country dance, as they have come every summer since he first ran for office, and won, in 1997. Some came originally as Progressive Conservatives, now as Liberals. Some come today as provincial Conservatives, federal Liberals. Some just come because, well, Scott can be whatever he wants to be, for all they care, so long as he continues to represent the very rural, very conservative riding of Kings-Hants.
He can be a Liberal instead of the Conservative they once thought him to be. He can be gay instead of the straight young man his parents once thought him to be. For all they know -- and many of them lining up for the chicken breasts and potato salad believe this possible -- he can be leader of the Liberal Party and even prime minister of Canada.
"I don't think you plan your life," Mr. Brison said on a long walk along the beach before the guests arrived, a walk he jokingly called "the Hants County Gay Pride Parade."
He did, on the other hand, plan to get involved politically from a very young age, either as an organizer or a candidate. It just happened about a quarter-century before he figured he would be ready. And there was a time, a long, long time, when he thought his dream would prove impossible. An openly gay person could not run for office and be elected. Not in rural Canada. Not as a conservative. Not here in the heart of Nova Scotia's "Baptist Belt."
And yet, he has. Four victories, two as a Progressive Conservative, two now as a Liberal, three victories while openly gay, the first despite being challenged by innuendo.
It was at this moment that Mr. Brison came to appreciate "what an amazing country we live in." A Reform/Alliance supporter was at the microphone during an all-candidates forum in nearby Windsor, and when he insisted on going on about why Mr. Brison had never married, the largely blue-rinse and white-hair audience began booing, some even standing to wave their fists at the questioner. Shortly after a story appeared in Frank magazine suggesting Mr. Brison was gay, he went public and today lives openly with his partner, Maxime St. Pierre. And despite some hard feelings that persist among certain local Conservatives concerning his switching to the Liberals, neither sexual choice nor party affiliation has hurt him in the least at the ballot box.
Mr. Brison speaks openly, and at length, about growing up gay. He was, at one point, desperate to be straight. "I didn't enjoy being an adolescent," he said. "It was a painful period." No one else noticed. He seemed to fit in perfectly. His older sister, Fran, said he was precocious and "born with this in him" to be at the centre rather than the fringe. He was president of his student council, played hockey and baseball like his older brothers Philip and Mitchell, and was popular with the girls. But no one knew.
"I fought it," he said. "No one knew how pained I was. I fought it right through university," while earning a degree in commerce from Dalhousie. "I prayed to God that I would be able to change." But, eventually, he came to terms with reality and let his family know.
"It was quite a blow to us," said Clifford Brison, the candidate's 82-year-old father. The shock was sufficient that, at one point, it sent Clifford and Verna Brison in search of professional help. The best advice, however, came from their own family doctor, who told them, "You go home and you put your arm around him and you tell him you love him. So we did."
It annoys Clifford Brison that the sexuality of one candidate becomes an issue while not for others, yet it remains a pivotal point in Scott Brison's political life as well as personal, and therefore comes far more into play than would otherwise be the case.
When his Progressive Conservative Party -- for which he once ran for leader -- merged with the Canadian Alliance to form the new Conservative Party, Mr. Brison met with leader Stephen Harper to determine whether same-sex marriage, a big Alliance concern, would continue under the new order. It would not only remain one, Mr. Harper told Mr. Brison, but was considered a "core" issue for the new party.
Mr. Brison knew at that instant, he said, "I could not run for a party that I did not want to win the election." Now party-less, he decided he was now a Liberal.
Mr. Brison is adamant that he never actually crossed any floor, but it hardly matters to those who have come here this sunny day.
"I'm 85 years old," said Margie Faulkner, his aunt, "and I voted Conservative in every single election, but when Scott crossed the floor, so did we."
He did not step right into cabinet, but was appointed minister of public works in Paul Martin's short-lived minority government.
He calls it "the most satisfying period of my working life." He set out to overhaul the procurement procedures of this vast department, instituted significant cost-saving initiatives -- and all went completely unnoticed because of the Gomery inquiry into previous contractual practices in the department under another minister.
Oddly enough, Mr. Brison seems to treasure the Gomery experience, revelling in the fact that about 1,000 questions were directed his way in the brief government and that, by all accounts, he performed well under pressure.
"He has the guts of a canal horse," said his father.
"I went through such hell early in my life with taking decisions, that I feel very comfortable taking them now," Mr. Brison said.
One decision profoundly regretted, however, is the morning he chose not to be forthcoming when Globe and Mail Ottawa bureau chief Brian Laghi called concerning talk of an RCMP investigation into a possible cabinet leak.
Just before then-finance-minister Ralph Goodale was to announce the government position on income-trust taxation in November, Mr. Brison, a former investment broker, sent an e-mail to a major bank's senior investment manager saying "I think you will be happier very soon."
Mr. Brison's first instinct was to deny knowledge of the e-mail, but he quickly called a news conference. He admitted to sending the e-mail but maintained he had no precise knowledge of Mr. Goodale's position, had been privy to no departmental meetings and was innocent of any wrongdoing. He said no inside information was being passed on, merely that the long-promised decision was finally coming down. CIBC has said nothing untoward was done in connection with Mr. Brison's cheery hint.
"I didn't do anything dishonest," Mr. Brison said. "I understand how people could misinterpret that, but I'm telling the truth. I did not have that information."
He does, however, admit to the mistake of being "evasive" when contacted by the reporter. He did so, he said, because he believed such an RCMP investigation would not be for discussion by a member of cabinet, but he now says he blew it.
"I've learned from that," he said. "I feel stronger for it. It toughens you up."
His baggage is far more the debatable e-mail exchange than it is crossing the floor. He knows that "baggage" is part of the makeup of this leadership race in which most candidates have exactly the same strategy: be everyone's second, third or fourth choice and slip through on the inside on a later ballot.
Mr. Brison is not even the only candidate to come from another party -- Bob Rae's years as New Democratic premier of Ontario weigh far more heavily on his shoulders than Mr. Brison's time as a Progressive Conservative. Michael Ignatieff has his long absence from Canada, Joe Volpe has his campaign donations, Stéphane Dion has his time in a cabinet that was unpopular in Quebec. Of the several said not to speak acceptable French, Mr. Brison -- who has the ear of a born mimic, able to give you Joe Clark one minute, Johnny Cash the next -- has come the furthest quickest, according to one fluent rival for the job, but he knows he still has a long, long way to go.
"I speak English with an accent from Nova Scotia, too," he joked.
Had his friend Frank McKenna -- the former New Brunswick premier and former Canadian ambassador to Washington -- decided to run, Mr. Brison would never have entertained the thought. What he would like to do is emulate Mr. McKenna, to change the way a province thinks about itself as well as how the country thinks of the province, only he would wish to do it to Canada as a nation: change how Canadians think about themselves, change how the world thinks of Canada.
Mr. Brison has picked up the support of two Maritime MPs, with a third expected this week, and seven senators. He also has the strong backing of Halifax businessman John Roy, who started up the Summit REIT real-estate investment firm that has been so successful giant ING has just offered $3.3-billion in a corporate takeover.
While he is widely considered to be running around the middle of the pack, his organizers say he belongs in the top tier.
Over the summer, Mr. Brison lost two key staff members, his national campaign director, Leslie Swartman, and former CBC radio journalist Susan Murray, who was handling communications. Ms. Murray, who took a full-time job with a think tank, remains a supporter. Ms. Swartman's replacement, Chris MacInnes, was chief of staff to Joe McGuire, minister for Atlantic Canada Opportunities in the Martin cabinet and once a worker for former Chrétien cabinet minister Allan Rock.
Mr. Brison insists he is in the race to win -- nothing less will do.
Running merely to position himself would be "highly narcissistic," he said, and grossly unfair to those working on his campaign. Perhaps Brian Mulroney, John Turner, Jean Chrétien and Paul Martin all had earlier runs for the leadership, but he had no interest in a "practice" campaign. As for setting himself up for a plum cabinet posting, should the Liberals ever return to office, he had already been in cabinet, had performed well, and could expect another chance without having gone through this.
What he had to offer, he believed, was difference. He came from Atlantic Canada. He had a rural background. And he was the youngest in the race. It was time, he believed, that Canada, as Britain had done under Tony Blair, turned to "a new generation of leadership, a new generation of ideas."
"Our party needs a generational change," said Richard Diamond, the president of the Young Liberals and a Brison supporter. "Scott represents the values we care about."
It will soon be 2007, Mr. Brison will argue during this long campaign, and politics is no longer about old notions based on some imaginable centre. "You say 'left wing,' 'right wing' to most Canadians, they think hockey players," he said.
"I was born in the sixties, but I'm not stuck there. You can't solve 21st-century problems with 1960s ideas." If the Liberal Party is ever going to come back, he says, it will be because of ideas, not ideology.
"The Liberal Party has sometimes tried so hard to agree with Canadians on every single issue that it has picked up a reputation as a bit of a windsock," he said.
Like the high, circular home he plans to construct in the woods, he believes in standing up to prevailing winds. Along with Mr. Ignatieff, he departed from the Liberal line to vote with the government in order to extend the mission in Afghanistan. He did so because he was part of the original decision to join the coalition and because he believes, absolutely, that Canada must show its resolve against terrorism. He does not, however, approve of the "wedge politics" Mr. Harper used to split, and embarrass, the Liberals by calling a vote that affects, far more, the real lives of those dealing in a real situation.
"What he did is morally wrong," Mr. Brison said of Mr. Harper's political gambit to use the military to divide, further, the opposition. "This is going to come back and bite him in the rear end."
Next election, however, "It is not going to be good enough just to attack Stephen Harper. That's what we did last time."
Instead, Mr. Brison is calling for a "green economy," one that combines social progressiveness with economic innovation and responsibility. He wants real tax reform that stops hurting the working poor. He wants to give young people a leg up by letting them keep their first $25,000 in earnings. He wants to put an end to regional alienation by moving more federal concerns out of Ottawa, talking about such possibilities as having Indian Affairs set up in Saskatchewan, Fisheries and Oceans moving to the coasts where the fish are found. He wants to turn Canada into the world's leading "clean energy" nation in the 21st century.
Mr. Brison envisions safer environmental methods for removing the oil from the tar sands, new consideration of nuclear power and vast new initiatives to harness the power of the wind, the sun and, he points out to the swiftly rising tide, the surging waters of the Bay of Fundy.
"This could all be a huge opportunity for rural Canada," he said. "They're not going to be putting a wind farm on the corner of Bay and Bloor." He also wants to tap into Canada's rich multiculturalism to build "bridges" around the world. "Instead of talking about Canada's importance in the world," he says, "we've got to make Canada important in the world."
Gain the respect of the world, he says, and the respect of the United States cannot help but follow.
"We have a huge opportunity here," he says, "to punch above our weight."
To fly, he might also say, above the trees.
At a glance
Name: Scott Brison
Born: Windsor, N.S.
Personal: Single, in a relationship with partner Maxime St-Pierre
Political history: First elected to the House of Commons as a Progressive Conservative in 1997, Mr. Brison emerged as the quick-tongued finance critic in the tiny PC caucus. He briefly resigned from his Kings-Hants seat in 2000 to allow then-leader Joe Clark to enter the Commons. In 2003, Mr. Brison ran for the Progressive Conservative leadership, finishing fourth.
After the Progressive Conservatives merged with the Canadian Alliance, Mr. Brison left the new Conservative Party -- saying his party left him -- and was recruited by incoming Liberal Prime Minister Paul Martin. After being elected as a Liberal in 2004, Mr. Brison was made Public Works minister, and was handed the job of dealing with the sponsorship scandal.
Quote: "There is a new desire for a new generation of leadership in Canada and outside of Canada . . . We have young Canadians that represent the most educated and informed generation in the history of Canada. And they're interested in ideas, but by and large they're not interested in politics. I'd like to help change that."