Nova Scotia

Premier Houston hires former Liberal cabinet minister for top job

Former Liberal MLA Geoff MacLellan has been hired as deputy minister of intergovernmental affairs.

Geoff MacLellan will earn almost $200k as deputy minister of intergovernmental affairs

Former Liberal Geoff MacLellan, shown here in Halifax on Thursday, Nov. 25, 2021, will be the new deputy minister of intergovernmental affairs. (Robert Short/CBC)

Premier Tim Houston is once again looking for the help of former Liberal cabinet minister Geoff MacLellan to keep his government on track and in power.

In January, the PC premier named his one-time political foe to head his government's housing task force. Houston has now hired the former MLA for Glace Bay as deputy minister of intergovernmental affairs.

Unlike the six-month contract to chair the task force, which was expected to cost taxpayers $54,000, MacLellan will earn $198,362.06 a year as one of the most powerful bureaucrats in the province.

In a news release issued by the premier's office, Houston said he was "impressed by the work" MacLellan has done on the task force.

"With his experience in trade and intergovernmental matters, I have every confidence he will be an asset as we find bold solutions for Nova Scotia on many important issues," said the release.

MacLellan 'delighted, humbled and excited'

In an interview with CBC News, MacLellan said he agreed to take on the job because it seemed like "a natural fit."

"It's tough work. It's demanding, but it's rewarding," said MacLellan of his time in cabinet alongside former premiers Stephen McNeil and Iain Rankin. He expected his work as deputy minister to provide the same challenges.

"I was delighted, humbled and excited about the opportunity to be the deputy minister and I gladly accepted," he said. 

MacLellan, 43, said he has enjoyed working for the PC government.

"Over the last eight or so months, doing the task force work, having a reintegration into government, I've really re-engaged, and I like working with Premier Houston and his team," he said.

Left politics to spend time with family

MacLellan did not reoffer in the last election in order to be in Cape Breton full time. When he announced his intention to leave provincial politics in February 2021, reconnecting with his children was foremost on his mind. 

"Without a doubt, the No. 1 reason are my two kids, Jorja, who's nine, and Daniel, who's seven," MacLellan said at the time.

MacLellan split his work with the task force between Halifax and Cape Breton, something he's less likely to do with this new job.

"For me, face time is critical," said MacLellan. "I'm not loving the idea of the five-hour commute back and forth, but it is what it is.

"And that's a small price to pay to be part of something so significant."

Dalhousie political scientist Lori Turnbull called Houston's hire "a smart move" and "a big deal."

"The deputy minister is at the top of the public service department and a deputy minister provides direct advice to the premier in this case," said Turnbull.

MacLellan, Houston to work closely together

Along with being premier, Houston is also minister of intergovernmental affairs and trade, the two responsibilities he has hired MacLellan to oversee as a bureaucrat. That means MacLellan will report directly to Houston and the two men will work closely together on key files.

Turnbull, the director of the school of public administration at Dalhousie University, said that would give MacLellan "a significant position of influence in the public service."

She also said it was a shrewd political move on Houston's part.

"It's quite smart for him," said Turnbull. "He's showing that he's not appointing someone from the Progressive Conservative supporters network. He's reaching beyond that.

"There could be some risks attached to that. Some Progressive Conservatives might not enjoy the fact the premier is appointing a Liberal and not them or not someone that they know."


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