Nova Scotia

Iain Rankin makes pitch to remain as N.S. Liberal leader

At a holiday party Wednesday in Halifax for Liberal MLAs, staff and supporters, Nova Scotia Liberal Party Leader Iain Rankin kicked off what amounted to a campaign to keep his job.

Former premier faces leadership review at party's annual general meeting in March

Liberal Leader Iain Rankin, seen in this file photo from the last provincial election, says he wants to remain as party leader. (Michael Gorman/CBC)

At a holiday party Wednesday in Halifax for Liberal MLAs, staff and supporters, Nova Scotia Liberal Party Leader Iain Rankin kicked off what amounted to a campaign to keep his job.

During a 15-minute speech, Rankin, whose party was defeated in the August provincial election after being in power for almost eight years, touted his record in office despite his brief time as premier.

He pointed to an affordable child-care agreement signed with Ottawa, a record increase in income assistance rates in the last budget, and efforts to expand the use of green energy, and get the province off coal sooner, during the six months he served as premier following the retirement of Stephen McNeil.

Rankin touched on the election loss, calling it "a reality check" and a personal "gut punch," according to a video of the speech shared with CBC.

Poor communications

In an interview, Rankin, who faces a leadership review in March during the party's annual general meeting, said he wants to stay on as leader because he believes the party is a "vehicle for progress" and he thinks he still has a lot to offer as a young politician.

Rankin said the results of a campaign review will be ready soon, but he anticipates it will reveal issues with the way the party's election platform was communicated and how challenges were addressed during the campaign.

"I believe we had the best platform, but I think it was very difficult to distill it down to the messaging that would catch on," he said.

"The ballot question on recovering from the pandemic on the economy never materialized and the health-care issues became more and more prominent, especially in the last week of the campaign where we saw our polling drop."

Both the Progressive Conservatives, who won the election, and the NDP hammered the Liberals on what they saw as shortcomings in the health-care system. Rankin and the Liberals did little to respond, waiting until the second week of the campaign to release their own plan for health care.

Rankin said the party "probably could have come out stronger" in defending its record.

He said he was further challenged by the loss of a number of incumbents during his time as leader and the short time to prepare the campaign compared to the other parties.

Failing to catch on

There were other challenges, too.

An admission by Rankin before the election of past instances of drunk driving, the Liberals' decision to consider selling Crown land for a controversial golf course development and the loss of a candidate the day the election began all dogged Rankin throughout the campaign. He struggled to address any of the issues in a way that would allow him to move on.

There are things he'd have done differently during the campaign, although Rankin declined to provide specifics, saying he wanted to wait for the results of the review.

Still, he believes he deserves another shot and thinks the Liberals can rebuild.

The governing Tories have yet to be faced with the difficult decisions that come with being in government, he said, such as contract negotiations. What is done in those situations will allow the public to get a true measure of the Tories, he said.

Won't give a number

Rankin said the Tories were elected largely by making Liberal-like promises. But whether there's room for the Liberals to break through in the next election, with or without Rankin as their leader, remains to be seen.

Rankin said there will be difficult conversations between now and the AGM and he's said he's ready for that.

He has already been meeting with members of electoral district associations. It will be through these meetings that Rankin will need to cultivate support heading into the leadership review.

As he has in the past, however, Rankin declined to say what level of support would be his threshold for remaining as leader, assuming he receives more than 50 per cent.

"The goal is to do better as I move forward in my career," said Rankin.

"I can understand you want a number from me, but I'm not giving a hard number."