Nova Scotia

When Iain Rankin becomes N.S. premier on Tuesday, these people will be his key advisers

When Iain Rankin takes over from Stephen McNeil as premier on Tuesday, he'll rely on two key advisers to run his office. Both have federal connections which may come in handy in negotiations with Ottawa.

Joanne Macrae and Dale Palmeter each have strong federal government connections

Iain Rankin leaves the Nova Centre in Halifax following his Liberal leadership win on Feb. 6, 2021. At his side are Joanne Macrae and Dale Palmeter. Both are soon-to-be key advisers in the premier’s office. (Jean Laroche/CBC)

Premier-designate Iain Rankin will officially take over from Stephen McNeil on Tuesday at a ceremony that will be presided over by Nova Scotia's Lieutenant Governor.

But a low-key and simultaneous changing of the guard at One Government Place will be just as important.

Here's what you need to know about the two people he has chosen to play key roles in the premier's office.

Chief of staff: Joanne Macrae

This 40-year-old political adviser was a key member of Iain Rankin's leadership campaign team. Before taking on that role, she worked as a constituency assistant for the member of Parliament for Halifax, Andy Fillmore.

She joins a select group of women to have held what was once a traditionally male-dominated position, and is among the youngest of those women to be named chief of staff. Since 1995, six women have been appointed to this powerful political position.

The chief of staff is a key gatekeeper who decides who gets access to the premier and who doesn't. They run the premier's office and are the central figure when it comes to the day-to-day business of managing files.

Until this foray into provincial politics, Macrae had been with Fillmore since helping him get elected to the House of Commons in 2015, in what was then a stunning upset over incumbent New Democrat Megan Leslie.

Although her political experience is rooted in federal politics, Macrae knows just about every nook and cranny at Province House, having spent two years working there as a parliamentary page while she studied at Dalhousie University.

Nova Scotia's next premier Iain Rankin speaks with CBC's Tom Murphy

CBC News Nova Scotia

3 months ago
6:31
Nova Scotia's premier-designate speaks with CBC's Tom Murphy 6:31

During John Hamm's first mandate, starting in 1999, Macrae had a close up view of majority government in action, including round-the-clock sittings.

One of those nights, paramedics packed the public gallery as politicians debated making ambulance services essential. When they walked off the job at midnight, politicians and Province House staff stared in disbelief as some crews abandoned their ambulances outside the legislature, motors running, lights flashing.

Before politics, Macrae was co-founder of the Hub Halifax, which provided office space to small businesses or individuals willing to share their workspace with others.

Principal secretary: Dale Palmeter 

The principal secretary is generally the premier's top policy advisor and the one responsible for keeping the government's agenda on track, including campaign promises and commitments.

Palmeter is a political fixer who has honed his skills primarily in the shadows of his lifelong friend and longtime boss, former MP Scott Brison.

He also worked briefly for former prime minister Joe Clark when Brison gave up his Kings-Hants seat so that the PC leader, who was staging a political comeback, could win a seat in the House of Commons in a September 2000 byelection.

Palmeter returned to Brison's side in the November 2000 general election and helped orchestrate two leadership bids, first for the PC Party of Canada in 2003, then three years later when Brison took a shot at leading the Liberal Party of Canada. Both were losing campaigns, but Palmeter and Brison's ties seemed stronger after each setback. 

Palmeter didn't hesitate to follow Brison from the PCs to the Liberals shortly after the merger between the PC Party of Canada and the Canadian Alliance.

When Paul Martin rewarded Brison with a cabinet post in 2004, Palmeter's standing in Ottawa made him a powerful voice in Nova Scotia.

Since Brison retired from politics two years ago, Palmeter has been working for federal cabinet ministers Bernadette Jordan and Maryam Monsef.

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