SYDNEY, N.S. — A prominent Nova Scotia mayor who came out as gay this week after someone allegedly threatened to out him has declared his intention to lead the provincial Tories.
Cape Breton Mayor Cecil Clarke says the packed hall of supporters at a Saturday event kicking off his campaign to lead the Progressive Conservatives reassured him that he handled the matter the right way.
After sharing details about his private life in a radio interview Thursday, Clarke said he felt great pride as he formally announced he was entering the race at the North Sydney Firefighters Club on Saturday afternoon.
"I think it really puts out that for the wider public to know exactly who I am, and what I stand for, and what I represent as a person ... I wasn't going to do that under any basis of hate or attack," Clarke said in a phone interview Saturday.
"The outpouring of support from all of Nova Scotia told me that I dealt with it the right way, and I believe Nova Scotians have responded in the right way."
The 49-year-old politician first publicly spoke about his sexual orientation in an interview with the CBC on Thursday, saying he didn't want anyone thinking they could shame him or hold something over him.
Clarke told The Canadian Press that he is exploring legal options in responding to the alleged threat, which he described as originating from outside provincial politics or the media and being "specific" to the individual or individuals involved.
His two declared opponents in the leadership race, members of the legislature Tim Houston and John Lohr, have both tweeted condemnations of personal attacks in the campaign.
"It is something that is serious, and I'm not out there to do anything other than make sure that my rights as a person are respected, and the rights of anybody else," Clarke said. "After this week, I want to make sure that no other person that I could possibly help should have to ... feel ashamed, or be shamed or be a victim of someone else's attack."
At Saturday's campaign event, Clarke, who formerly served in the provincial legislature for a decade, cast himself as an experienced politician who could foster the kind of "grassroots" engagement it would take to win the leadership race and eventually oust the province's Liberal government.
He told the crowd that Nova Scotia already has the resources to lead prosperity, but it needs a new approach in order to revive its health-care system, improve infrastructure and work with teachers to educate the next generation.
"Nova Scotians are looking for a government and a team who are ready to lead," he told supporters. "Everything I've done in my life has prepared me for this moment. But it's not my moment — let me be very clear — it's Nova Scotia's moment."
Jamie Baillie announced late last year that he planned to step down as PC leader and leave politics, but his departure came sooner than expected last month when he resigned following an allegation of inappropriate behaviour.
Having served as a cabinet minister in the Progressive Conservative governments of former premiers John Hamm and Rodney MacDonald, Clarke said in an interview that he was "shocked" by the revelations about Baillie.
He said the provincial legislature and individual parties should review their practices regarding allegations of sexual misconduct, and said he would push for a victim-centred approach in handling such claims.
Details of the Tory's leadership convention are expected to be announced later this month during the party's annual general meeting.