With a mandatory leadership review two months away, Nova Scotia Liberal Leader Iain Rankin has reversed course and decided to step down as party leader.
Rankin, the MLA for Timberlea Prospect, revealed his plans to his caucus members Wednesday during a virtual meeting and has asked the party to begin the process to find a replacement. He told reporters he will remain in his job until the next leader is selected and will then stay on as MLA. He intends to run in the next provincial election.
"I was committed to staying on as leader up until today," Rankin told reporters. "The holidays was an opportunity, for sure, for me to reflect and think about what is most important for my family, but for the party as well, and I made this decision. I don't take this decision lightly, but it is the right decision to make today."
Rankin and his wife, Mary, welcomed their first child late last year.
The announcement is a far cry from what Rankin would have wanted — and many in his party expected — almost a year ago when he won a three-person race to take over from Stephen McNeil, who retired as premier and Liberal leader last February.
At the time, Rankin inherited a government that had been in power since 2013, the same year he was first elected as an MLA. And although the province was in the throes of the pandemic, the Liberals were riding high in public opinion polls thanks to Nova Scotia's management of COVID-19.
Challenges from the start
But unlike other provincial governments, Rankin was unable to turn that into electoral success.
His one sitting in the legislature as premier last spring was marked with highs and lows. His government passed a budget with the single largest increase in income support payments ever, but it was also seen as caving in the face of an orchestrated lobby by the forestry industry when Rankin watered down his showpiece Biodiversity Act.
When he called the election in July, Rankin's Liberals were the last of the three main parties to release a platform and, when they did, the party's focus on rebuilding the economy after successful pandemic management failed to resonate with voters.
While Rankin and his team talked about balancing budgets and transitioning the economy from COVID, the Progressive Conservatives — who would go on to form a majority government — and the NDP focused instead on health care and housing.
Even when it became clear that the Liberal message was not catching on, Rankin and his team were slow to pivot, something he acknowledged Wednesday he heard from party members in the wake of the campaign.
"They were concerned about a bit of a breakdown with the team and the membership and ensuring that they were engaged all the way through," he said.
"I think part of that could have been the pandemic and not being able to get together. But clearly, after you've been 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 from members — they want to be heard."
The former premier also failed to clearly and effectively settle several controversies that would dog him throughout the campaign, including how his team handled a candidate who dropped out on the first day of the election, his involvement in the potential sale of Owls Head provincial park and revelations of several drunk driving charges when he was younger.
Despite the election loss, Rankin stayed on as leader and indicated he would fight to keep the job ahead of a required leadership review in March as part of the Liberal annual general meeting.
But in recent months there had been efforts behind the scenes to convince him to step aside, with some party members privately expressing fear about what would happen if the leadership review resulted in a defeat for Rankin or only lukewarm support (Rankin refused several times to say the threshold he would require in order to stay on).
Rankin, however, said Wednesday that he felt a lot of support as he talked with people from across the province and that no one told him he should step aside.
"This isn't about how much support I had. This is about doing what's best for me, for my family, for the stability of the party and ultimately the province.
With Wednesday's announcement, the Liberals become the second party in the province in search of a leader, joining the NDP.
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