HALIFAX — Former Nova Scotia Premier John Hamm addressed the resignation of former provincial Tory leader Jamie Baillie after an allegation of inappropriate behaviour Friday, saying he was "heartsick" at the turn of events.
In a surprise address at the opening of the party's annual general meeting in Halifax, Hamm commended the party's executive for its handling of "recent events that have left so many of us disappointed and saddened.
"Jamie Baillie is a friend of mine," said Hamm. "Like many of you, I was shocked and saddened to read media reports of what transpired and I am heartsick for both the victim and Jamie's family."
Hamm said immediate action was taken, putting the interest of the victim ahead of personal friendship and party loyalty.
"The hard decisions were made for the right reasons," he said. "We all know smart people who have made stupid decisions and bad choices. No one should ever condone such behaviour, but neither should we erase of forget all they have accomplished."
Hamm then made an appeal for understanding, noting that both the victim and Baillie participated in the party's investigation and accepted its findings.
"Politics is unforgiving, but politicians — and friends and family — must have compassion," Hamm said.
Baillie announced plans last fall to step down after serving as Tory leader since 2010, but he resigned suddenly Jan. 24 after a party investigation determined he had acted inappropriately and breached the legislature's policy on workplace harassment.
In an earlier speech, party president Tara Miller said the party set a precedent in the way it swiftly dealt with the allegation.
Miller also acknowledged that the two weeks since Baillie's resignation have been hard.
"There is no disguising that this has been a difficult and confusing time for our party," Miller told the gathering of rank-and-file Tories.
"We are not alone in having these conversations, as they are taking place across the province and across the country. Our party set a precedent by facing a difficult situation head-on."
Miller did not offer any more details around the alleged incident or the party's investigation in her speech, but she has previously said she was told by "multiple sources'' about a single incident involving "one individual'' in December.
She said by treating the allegation seriously, the party ensured there was due process through a prompt investigation by an independent third party organization that was "just and fair."
That stance has been backed by the party's 16-member caucus. The majority who have been asked have said party officials did the right thing after the complainant and Baillie — neither of whom have spoken about the incident — chose not to follow the formal process laid out in the legislature's harassment policy.
Miller said the party had acted decisively, "to ensure all Nova Scotians are afforded a healthy, safe and supportive working environment where they are treated with respect and dignity."
She told supporters the party has the "resilience to weather this storm."
Miller and interim leader Karla MacFarlane were keynote speakers, taking the spot that had formerly been reserved for Baillie's farewell speech to the party.
"We look forward again now, with optimism and excitement, for the future of our party and who our new leader will be," Miller said.
Five candidates are currently vying for that leadership.
Three caucus members are in the contest, including veterans Tim Houston and John Lohr, who were the first to announce, and rookie MLA Elizabeth Smith-McCrossin.
Smith-McCrossin, who announced her candidacy Tuesday, had been the first woman to ever run for the party's top job. She was joined Thursday by Julie Chaisson, executive director of the Halifax Seaport Farmers' Market.
The fifth and perhaps highest-profile candidate is Cecil Clarke, a former Tory cabinet minister under premiers Hamm and Rodney MacDonald.
Clarke, who is the mayor of the Cape Breton Regional Municipality, made headlines just prior to jumping into the race a week ago, announcing publicly that he is gay. He said he decided to speak out after someone had threatened to expose his personal life.
All five candidates were scheduled to give short speeches on Friday.
Federal Leader Andrew Scheer is set to speak at a luncheon event on Saturday, while the party plans to release details and rules for the provincial leadership race on Sunday.
Keith Doucette, The Canadian Press