NOVA SCOTIA VOTES
Liberal Leader: Stephen McNeil
Last Updated: Thursday, April 30, 2009 | 8:32 PM ET
Call him the rebuilder?
Stephen McNeil has the daunting task of pulling the once mighty Liberals up from third-party status in the Nova Scotia legislature. Winning only nine seats out of 52 in the last provincial election, it was the party's worst showing ever.Liberal Leader Stephen McNeil. (CBC)
McNeil, the MLA for Annapolis since 2003, is no stranger to politics. But this is his first campaign as leader.
In the two years since winning his party's top job, he has tried to raise his profile, attempting to woo voters in a series of TV ads as the "ordinary Nova Scotian" who answered the call for new leadership in the province.
McNeil, 44, is quick to point out that he's the 12th of 17 children from a rural area. After his father Burt died in 1973, his mother Theresa went to work, eventually becoming Canada's first female sheriff. He says his childhood taught him a lot about teamwork and compromise.
McNeil, a father of two who lives in Upper Granville with wife Andrea, took the appliance service technician program at Nova Scotia Community College. He later ran his own small business for more than 18 years.
He was elected MLA for Annapolis in 2003, and re-elected in 2006. He served as the Liberal caucus whip and party critic for a number of portfolios, including community services, agriculture and tourism.
In April 2007, McNeil won the Liberal leadership on the second ballot, beating back a strong challenge from Diana Whalen, a caucus colleague. He won by a vote of 718-650.
Under his leadership, the Liberal caucus backed Progressive Conservative budgets in 2007 and 2008, ensuring the Tories stayed in power.
McNeil takes credit for the return of a home heating fuel rebate program, which the government had axed. His party also got the government to designate several medical school seats to Nova Scotians who are willing to work in rural areas.
In the last few months, McNeil signalled he was ready to stand out.
Last fall, he triggered a debate when he introduced a bill to lower the voting age to 16, saying it was time for a discussion about democracy. And this spring, as the Tories prepared to change the law to spend money earmarked for the debt, he voted against the bill.
But even if McNeil is ready for change, are Nova Scotians?
A February poll of voters carried out by Corporate Research Associates (CRA) suggests the Liberals have about the same level of support as the reigning PCs. The CRA poll results released in March showed the NDP ahead with 36 per cent support of decided voters, compared with 31 per cent for the Liberals and 30 per cent for the Tories. About 37 per cent of those polled said they were undecided. The poll is considered accurate to within 3.5 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.
Nova Scotia's Liberals haven't formed a government in the province since 1999 and the party has fought each of the past three elections with a different leader. In 2006, under Francis MacKenzie, the Grits failed to run a full slate of candidates and saw the party's seat count drop to nine – a historic low.