Liberal nomination hokey-pokey in Lunenburg West


  • <p>SUBMITTED PHOTO</p><p>Jennifer Naugler wants to be the Liberal choice in the provincial riding of Lunenburg West.</p>
  • <p>SUBMITTED PHOTO</p><p>Patty Culbert withdrew her intention to seek the Liberal party&#8217;s nomination in Lunenburg West days after entering the fray.</p>

Lunenburg West Grits played a political game of hokey-pokey in hopes of replacing outgoing Liberal MLA Mark Furey, with one nomination hopeful in the running, who was then out, and then another woman entered the fray.

"I really felt there was a lot of support for me to do this; ultimately, I decided serving my community in this way, I would really enjoy and it would feel like a real honour," said Jennifer Naugler of Hebbs Cross, who, at the time of this writing, was still seeking the provincial Liberal nod.

Naugler, 50, who owns her own media company and served multi-terms as a member and chairwoman of the South Shore's elected school board, announced her intentions March 11.

She decided to seek the nomination after talking to family, friends and contacts in political circles. The married mother of three was getting calls and emails asking her to give provincial politics some thought.

"I wasn't actively considering it at the time when Mark announced," Naugler told LighthouseNOW during a phone interview.

Furey, the riding's MLA since 2013, announced in February he wasn't seeking another term. The retired senior-ranking RCMP officer was a cabinet minister for years in the McNeil government. He'll have an annual MLA pension of at least $35,000 per year upon his retirement.

Naugler plans to bring her own individual personality and style to the job.

Her business experience and volunteer history - which includes roles with a school advisory committee and the United Way - laid a foundation for goals she hopes leads to legislative-related work on policy, issues and government bills.

"I really feel the work I'm doing has exposed me to a much broader part of the community," she explained, confident a public trust and relationship developed with people she's encountered over the years. "Celebrating what's happening on the South Shore has really made me understand better what issues people are facing here."

This is not Naugler's first try at a political party nomination. She came up short in 2014 to be the federal Liberal candidate in South Shore-St. Margaret's, losing to now-MP and cabinet minister Bernadette Jordan.

Although a failed attempt, she said it was an enjoyable experience. "I don't regret for a minute that I ever did that," she told LighthouseNOW, "and I really feel like there were more positives for me than negatives."

Naugler made no mention of the past nomination attempt in her March 11 public statement.

"I just thought that ... my elected school board experience and the work I've done since, and my connection with the community, is really what I think I wanted to share with people." Liberals would already be well-aware of the federal try, Naugler said.

First potential candidate opts out, days after saying she's in

With Naugler "in," it seemed a contested nomination was on the horizon. Four days earlier, on March 7, Patty Culbert, a businesswoman, volunteer, and political operative, became the first person seeking the party's nomination in the riding.

Culbert, 45, a married mother of three from Bridgewater, told LighthouseNOW at one point it felt public office was the next "logical step" for her.

Culbert co-owns a Bridgewater-based health clinic, and previously served on a community health and school advisory boards, among other volunteer commitments. She's currently on leave from her position as Atlantic regional director for the federal Liberals. Culbert worked as a caucus outreach official for the provincial Liberals, and co-chaired MP Bernadette Jordan's campaigns in 2015 and 2019.

She wants to be an MLA to shape change in a different way than being in a position within an organization.

"You can advocate on behalf of policies, and the change you wish to see, but you're speaking on behalf of that group toward the decision-makers," she told LighthouseNOW during a phone call before opting out. "It would be best to then bring that experience I have, and be the decision-maker. I hope to bring everything I've learned, and be at the table and making the decisions."

While populating her announcement with complimentary mentions of Furey, she committed to offering a different view and impact concerning public affairs. "In terms of my personal focus, I have strong passion for increasing access to mental health and wellness services in Lunenburg West, and in the rest of the province," she mentioned as an example.

But Culbert had a change of heart after Naugler's announcement and withdrew March 11.

Culbert told LighthouseNOW it would be complex to run an effective campaign against a friend. The process of contested nominations, based on her previous observations, can be "destructive" to people putting their names forward in the future, she said.

Naugler will "make a great candidate, but I believe it's healthiest for Lunenburg West for me to withdraw from the race," Culbert said.

She's not ruling out a future run, but determined now "is not the right time."

While working for the Liberal caucus in 2019, Culbert was one of the recipients of a five-page email describing an alleged drunk driving incident in 2018 involving Chester-St. Margaret's MLA Hugh MacKay.

The email was tabled last February in the Nova Scotia Legislature by the Progressive Conservative (PC) opposition, and the McNeil government was heavily criticized for its handling of the allegations contained in the email, and for not taking them seriously enough.

The premier's chief-of-staff at the time felt the allegations lacked merit, but MacKay was charged months later with impaired driving connected to a date in 2018 matching details contained in the email. MacKay, who now sits as an independent, pleaded not guilty and is currently awaiting trial. The allegations have not been tested in court, and he's presumed innocent.

While the matter impacted some decisions she made last year, Culbert told LighthouseNOW it didn't play a role in her decision to quit the Lunenburg West nomination.

She said she too was appalled and disappointed with how the situation was managed. "Not enough was done," she told LighthouseNOW.

She said she pushed the issue vigorously, and was assured it would be addressed meaningfully and appropriately.

"I did all I really could short of leaving the organization at the time," Culbert explained. "Then I found out, along with the rest of Nova Scotia, the chief-of-staff had taken it into her own hands to deal with it in her, and, ultimately, inappropriate way, which really led to a break down in trust, for sure."

Culbert said she has every confidence, belief, and support in the new premier and administration.

Meanwhile, the other major political parties haven't confirmed any potential candidates for the Lunenburg West riding, with the PCs, Green party, and NDP still searching for potential nominees.

The next provincial election has not yet been called.

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