Nova Scotia

Nova Scotia politicians begin kicking the tires on Liberal leadership

Two Nova Scotia cabinet ministers and a federal MP aren't ruling out runs at the Nova Scotia Liberal Party leadership. There are likely others considering the same thing.

Geoff MacLellan, Sean Fraser and Zach Churchill say they're weighing their options

Business Minister Geoff MacLellan, MP Sean Fraser and Education Minister Zach Churchill say they're considering runs for the leadership of the Nova Scotia Liberal Party. (Robert Short/CBC/Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press/Craig Paisley/CBC)

At least two Nova Scotia cabinet ministers and a member of Parliament say they're now considering what the future holds for them following Premier Stephen McNeil's announcement Thursday that he intends to resign.

Central Nova MP Sean Fraser, the parliamentary secretary to the minister of finance, said in a statement that he's giving "real consideration" to whether a provincial Liberal leadership run makes sense for him.

Nova Scotia Education Minister Zach Churchill and Business Minister Geoff MacLellan both said in interviews with CBC News that they hadn't given it much thought before but, with a leadership contest now looming, they aren't ruling out seeking their party's top job.

"Nothing is off the table," said MacLellan. "I don't want to be vague or clichéd, but it's a lot to think about.

"Everyone dreams about being the premier and the prime minister and the centrefielder for the Yankees, but when it actually comes into a legitimate conversation, it's a much different story. What happened yesterday changes a lot for many people, including myself."

McNeil's decision could also change things for Churchill, who, like MacLellan, was first elected in a byelection in 2010. Both were named to cabinet in McNeil's first term as premier after forming government in 2013.

Premier Stephen McNeil made a surprise announcement Thursday that he will step down once a new leader is selected. (Riley Smith/The Canadian Press)

Like MacLellan, Churchill said he's mainly been focused on the premier's decision and the role McNeil has played in his life.

"I was surprised by that [announcement]," he said. "Part of me is sad that he's doing that because he was a mentor and a friend."

Churchill said he now needs to reflect on what the future holds for the party, the caucus and himself.

Fraser's statement said he deeply values his current role as a member of Parliament and what he's been able to do for his riding through that work, but after receiving many calls from supporters he's now looking at whether the opportunity to serve as the premier of Nova Scotia "makes sense for me and for our province."

"These are big decisions that have an impact not only on those who seek public office, but also their loved ones. I will take the time necessary to make an informed choice about the next step in my career in politics here at home in Nova Scotia."

It's something other members of the party are likely also now weighing, although Fraser, Churchill and MacLellan were the only people out of about a dozen CBC contacted Friday who returned calls to say they're considering it. In a text message, Community Services Minister Kelly Regan said she is interested in the continued growth of the party and province, but hasn't yet given any real consideration to seeking the leadership.

Savage, Fillmore out

A spokesperson for Halifax Mayor Mike Savage, long rumoured as being interested in the job, said he has no plans to seek the leadership. Savage is fully committed to his bid for re-election in October's municipal election, according to Shaune MacKinlay.

Halifax MP Andy Fillmore said he isn't interested in the job, either.

"I'm entirely focused on the job I have right now," Fillmore said in an interview a day after announcing a long-time goal of his: regular visitor access to Georges Island.

"There's more work to be done for Halifax here in Halifax, and there's more work for me to do for Halifax in Ottawa."

A big prize and big challenge

Nova Scotia Liberal Party officials say they will meet soon to establish the parameters for a leadership race and just what form it will take in light of the coronavirus pandemic.

McNeil has said he will continue to govern until the party selects a new leader.

Katherine Fierlbeck, a political scientist at Dalhousie University in Halifax, said the race to replace McNeil seems wide open because there is no obvious successor. That can at least be partly attributed to no one anticipating McNeil's departure.

And while winning the leadership comes with the added bonus of becoming premier, whoever gets the job will be inheriting a government that's facing major financial challenges. COVID-19 has created an $853 million deficit in Nova Scotia.

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With files from Taryn Grant

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