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Tim Houston
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Tim Houston: ‘My CPA background allowed me to hit the ground running’

Nova Scotia’s Premier reflects on how his designation helped pave his road to the provincial legislature*

Tim HoustonTim Houston, FCPA, was sworn in as Premier of Nova Scotia in 2021 (Photograph provided)

*This story was originally published in Nova CPA in November 2022. It has been reprinted with permission from CPA Nova Scotia.

The beautiful city of Halifax is on full display from the window in Premier Tim Houston’s office. Leading a province is no small task, and Tim Houston, FCPA, FCA, has just completed his first full year.** Tim is warm and welcoming as he recalls both the highlights and challenges of the past year.

Tim Houston became the 30th Premier of Nova Scotia when he was sworn in on August 31, 2021. He earned his Chartered Accountant designation after receiving his Bachelor of Commerce from Saint Mary’s University. He was awarded the Fellow (FCPA) designation in November 2020 and considers his CPA background to be essential for the job.

How was your first year in office?

Being Premier is a privilege and this is such a great province. I’ve put a lot into the work, and I’ve gotten a lot out of it as well. Any time you take on a new role, there’s a learning curve. This role is a little different because there’s a whole team that’s all on the same learning curve. All of the cabinet ministers are new to their roles, a lot of the caucus, and everyone on my team at the Premier’s office. We’re a focused team though and I think at this point, we’re firing on mostly all cylinders.

Was being Premier what you expected it to be?

I didn’t grow up wanting to be in politics. Often, if you say someone is a politician, it’s almost a bad word, it holds such negative connotations. But I was looking forward to the opportunity to effect positive change that impacts a wide range of people, an entire province.

One of the things I didn’t anticipate as Premier is how much travel is expected. Meeting with people across the province has been so rewarding. Having the Premier show up and listen still means something, and that reminds me of the weight of the position, in a good way.

How did your background as a CPA prepare you to be Premier?

Running a province, dealing with budgets, and making investments while also trying to prioritize government spending is difficult. It’s the analytical skills that I’ve learned as a CPA that get me the most effective outcomes when spending taxpayers’ money. Having the ability to understand structures and finances allows me to make the most out of scarce resources, for the benefit of all Nova Scotians.

I think this would be a difficult job without a CPA background because it has allowed me to hit the ground running. Having the ability to look at information and assess it quickly is a skill that you learn through your training as a CPA.

Tim Houston speaking outdoors‘Being Premier is a privilege and this is such a great province,’ says Tim Houston (Photograph provided)

Would you change anything from the past year?

If we think on the policy side, I wish I didn’t implement or table a nonresident property tax. We put that forward, talked about it in the legislature and then backed away. I think it was a good learning opportunity but it probably would have been better if I didn’t do it to begin with. One of my key skills is that I can make decisions rapidly, so maybe I can make 100 decisions in the time it takes someone else to make 10. But when you’re making that many decisions that quickly, you’re going to get some wrong, so you have to decide (as a Premier, father, and everyone else), does the need for momentum and action override other things? For me it does, because I’m action oriented. I don’t regret feeling the sense of urgency and moving forward with things that ruffled some feathers. I’m pleased with how our government has responded to situations that have arisen and I’m pleased with how our government has proactively tried to address some of the issues that have been facing the province.

How do you deal with criticism?

When I make decisions, my heart is in the right place. My goal is to make Nova Scotia better and stronger. If we get the policy a bit wrong, we’ll fix that, but we’re always guided by what we believe (based on the information we have) is best for the province. Sometimes, the media and people can be unforgiving. But we keep reminding ourselves that we made the best decision we could in that moment, but now there’s a better decision to be made, so we have to be adults about owning that.

How are you balancing being Premier with having a family?

I’m still trying to find that balance. I strive to spend some time with my family, and more time at home but this is, as my dad says, all part of the grand tapestry. I’ve dedicated this portion of my life to public service so I end up sacrificing some things on the family side. I continue to check in and make sure we have that time together, and that their dad is still their dad and a husband. That balance is not unique to being a Premier. As we approach the oneyear anniversary though, I think the overriding feeling is a sense of pride at what we’ve been able to accomplish and a sense of optimism about what’s to come.

Are you and your family still able to go out?

My family and I still go out into public places, but we are no longer anonymous. We can see people nudging each other and some will come up and say hello. One night, I was out with my wife Carol for dinner, and someone came up to us and said, I hate to bother you but I want to pay you a compliment by saying that I wish I had voted for you. It was one of the best compliments I’ve ever received.

What is the best part about your role?

I asked Premier MacNeil this as well and he said that the best day of being Premier was every day. There are lots of moving parts and everyone has good days and bad days, but really, the privilege and best part of this position is the opportunity to do good things for the province, and you can never lose sight of that. We can make policy and support people in ways that very few other positions can. To have the potential to make such a positive impact on people’s lives, that’s what gets me up every morning. There are lots of bad parts and negativity in the press and social media. People have opinions on your mental abilities, physical appearance, on your everything, and they’re not always positive. But being able to make change makes it worth it, and gives me a sense of urgency. I’m only Premier for a short window of time, and the people will decide how long that window is. But every day is very valuable because it’s a finite period of time, so I try to see every day as a chance to get stuff done.

What are your hopes for Nova Scotia?

One of the things we’re inherently good at is promoting our province. I talk a lot about Nova Scotia getting its swagger back, and having confidence on a national and international stage. Nova Scotians can be a bit humble. We want the province to succeed and now, we need to take it a step further and not be afraid to talk about how great this province is!

** This interview was published in November 2022, after Houston’s first year in office. He has now been Premier for two years.

MORE LEARNING OPPORTUNITIES

Make sure to attend The ONE national conference in Halifax, September 12 and 13. Plus, read up on some of the keynote speakers, including Lital Marom, thought leader on innovation, digital transformation, the future of work and more, and Tareq Hadhad, CEO of Peace by Chocolate.