Iain Rankin, former N.S. premier and leader of Liberals, announces resignation

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HALIFAX — Former Nova Scotia premier Iain Rankin said Wednesday he would step down as Liberal leader, after reflecting during the holidays on his career and taking responsibility for his party's loss in the August election to the Progressive Conservatives.

Rankin, 38, served as premier for just over six months, after the party chose him in late February 2021 to succeed two-term premier Stephen McNeil. He entered last summer's election campaign with a large lead in the polls and momentum from McNeil’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic. But Rankin ran an ineffective campaign and was unable to connect with the public, according to political observers.

He said he's looking to spend more time with his family and new child. "I'm looking forward to just being able to be a dad," he told reporters. "I think that's my No. 1 job now."

Rankin, Nova Scotia's 29th premier, said he intends to continue as leader until the party holds a leadership race. He said the Liberals should modernize and learn from an ongoing campaign review.

After his party lost the election, Rankin said at the time he was proud of his record and intended to remain as leader. But on Wednesday, Rankin accepted responsibility for the defeat, adding that he had failed to lay out a clear vision for how the province would recover economically from the pandemic.

"I started to talk to (Liberal) members over the last number of months about how they see things moving forward and there's work to do there for sure," he said Wednesday. "A lot of members obviously were disappointed with the election result, and they want to be included in rebuilding this party after eight years in government."

He said members also told him the party needs to improve the way it communicates with them. "After you're in government for a long time, there needs to be a look at how to connect better with members, and that's what I'm hearing members want."

He said he plans to stay on as MLA for Timberlea—Prospect after a successor is found. No date for the party vote has been scheduled, but he said he suspects it will be some time this year.

Tory Premier Tim Houston thanked Rankin for his service in a statement released Wednesday.

"I understand the weight of making tough decisions to keep Nova Scotians safe …" Houston said. "Iain spent many years in service to Nova Scotians, first as minister and then as premier during a very challenging time in the pandemic."

The Liberals stumbled before the summer election began. Rankin revealed in July he had been convicted of impaired driving as a young man in 2003 and 2005. He provided few details about the second conviction, which was dismissed in court. The lack of disclosure surrounding the second case prompted a series of unflattering media reports.

In the early part of the campaign, news broke that Rankin's party had pressured candidate Robyn Ingraham to drop out because she had previously sold revealing photos of herself on the website OnlyFans. Ingraham also alleged the party had told her to lie and instead cite her mental health issues as the reason for leaving.

Rankin’s campaign couldn't find an answer to counter Houston's strategy of focusing on the problems in the health-care system. Houston constantly highlighted the chronic shortage of family doctors, excessive waits for ambulances and a lack of available mental health supports as issues that needed to be urgently addressed.

After the Aug. 17 election, the Liberals' seat count fell from 24 to 17. The Tories, meanwhile, went up to 31 seats from 17. There were four more seats added to the legislature for the summer election, for a total of 55.

The NDP have six seats and there is one Independent member.

Nova Scotia NDP Leader Gary Burrill also recently announced he would step down from the role as soon as his party chooses his successor.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 5, 2022.

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This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Facebook and Canadian Press News Fellowship.

Danielle Edwards, The Canadian Press

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