'The buck stops with me': Houston pledges African Nova Scotians will be heard by new government

Even though controversy continues to swirl around Tim Houston's pick for Minister of African Nova Scotian Affairs, the premier insists the province's Black community won't be left behind.

"I understand the emotions around it," Houston told reporters Wednesday.

"Our minister will listen to them, respect them, and work with them. So, we're optimistic. I understand the emotions of it, but that should not be interpreted as not being concerned about listening to the community."

The portfolio has been given to veteran MLA Pat Dunn, who's white.

The member for Pictou Centre had previous experience at the cabinet table, but the notion of a white man being responsible for a Black portfolio in 2021 doesn't sit well with a lot of people.

"I would have thought that this would have lead the new government to look at ways in which they might innovate -- do something a little different," said NDP Leader Gary Burrill.

Some have suggested Houston could have approached and any of the four African Nova Scotians who were elected to the legislature on Aug. 17.

"There are no strict laws that prevent him from picking almost anybody he wants to be in the cabinet," Mount Saint Vincent University political science and Canadian studies professor Jeff MacLeod told CTV News.

"Doesn't have to be an MLA; it's governed by convention. That is past practice -- informal," said MacLeod. "A premier can pick a person that they met at Tim Horton's to be in their cabinet if they wanted to. The options available to a premier are immense."

In defending Dunn, Houston seemed to indicate his choices were limited by tradition.

"Our democracy works best when people elect people to the legislature and that those elected people form a cabinet, and our held accountable by the people," he said.

"So we have a cabinet from our elected caucus. We elected 31 greater MLAs. We ran the most diverse slate of candidates we ever had. We had a lot of diversity in our candidates, and I thought they were great community leaders, and I was expecting that some of them would get elected. The people in those constituencies this time around, chose differently. That's the will of the people," Houston said. "But my commitment to the community is, as premier, the buck always stops with me. The community will be heard, will be respected, we will work with them."

Long time Liberal MLA Tony Ince who had the African Nova Scotian Affairs Portfolio before the election was called, says he knows and respects Dunn personally.

"Iwas pleased to see that it was Pat Dunn, given who they have there," Ince told CTV at his constituency office in Cole Harbour. "Dunn is a very balanced person, and I think he's also a good listener."

But Ince says he's heard from lots of people deeply concerned their interests won't be represented at the cabinet table.

"I had many community members calling me, asking me, 'So what are they going to do?'" he said.

Ince also dismissed the idea of taking the portfolio if he were approached by Houston.

"I don't think I would," he said.

"They're the government, they have to rule. They have to make their decisions. And I'm on the side that's going to hold them to account."

Meantime, long time Preston youth advocate and mentor Colter Simmonds told CTV News he's actively working to mobilize the Black community to address the government's cabinet pick for African Nova Scotian Affairs.

'It's a slap in the face, given everything that's happened in 2020," he said in a late afternoon phone call to CTV.

Simmonds ran for the NDP in the riding.

CTV News also reached-out to Pat Dunn for comment Wednesday, but were told he's away, dealing with a family health situation.