McNeil winds down time in office as N.S. Liberals get ready to choose new leader

·2 min read

HALIFAX — Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil held one of his last briefings with reporters Friday as the Liberal party geared up to choose a new leader.

On Saturday, leadership convention delegates will choose from a slate of ex-McNeil cabinet ministers: Iain Rankin, Randy Delorey and Labi Kousoulis.

McNeil told reporters Friday until his new successor is sworn in he will continue to assume the premier's responsibilities. A swearing-in date for the next Liberal leader and premier has not been announced.

"I will work in a transition to ensure the new leader fully has the capacity to move through to deal with COVID and other things," McNeil said.

His cabinet members often referred to him as "the boss" and he made no secret about how much he enjoys the job. He announced his retirement after 17 years in politics, following a cabinet meeting last August. The premier presided over his last cabinet meeting on Thursday.

"I'm proud of my record as premier of this province, not just in the last year but over the past seven years," he said. "I believe this province is in a position to weather COVID better than any other place."

During his time in office, McNeil gained a reputation as fiscal conservative and won back-to-back majority governments in 2013 and 2017, in large part by delivering on a promise to control spending.

His government passed five consecutive balanced budgets and McNeil said his style of fiscal management made it possible to invest in areas such as health and education.

Still, the pandemic ate away at what was a slim surplus, leaving the deficit at $778.8-million as of December. McNeil, however, said his successor would likely be dealing with a budget deficit of around $500-million by the end of the fiscal year.

"I'm proud of the fiscal health of this province," he said.

Often derided for his battle to rein in public sector wages over the years, McNeil was asked about the difficult lessons he had learned in public life. He said he learned that events can change governments just as it does individuals.

"Everybody talks about wanting change and they all encourage you to make change until it actually impacts them and then all of a sudden it's not such a good idea, but that's the reality," McNeil said. "We really have two choices: we either shape the change or the change will shape us."

McNeil added that he remained true to himself during his time in office. "I never wanted to leave this job and have somebody say that I was paralyzed by the opportunity," he said.

He has said he plans to sit in the legislature as the member for Annapolis but won't run next provincial election.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 5, 2021.

Keith Doucette, The Canadian Press