Nova Scotia

Liberal leadership hopefuls spar over Delorey's claim he's best suited to handle pandemic

Former Nova Scotia health minister Randy Delorey told Liberals who watched the party's first leadership debate Thursday evening that picking the wrong leader could affect the rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine and slow down the province's economic recovery.

Randy Delorey says vaccine distribution 'cannot be interrupted by a transition between leaders'

Iain Rankin, left, Randy Delorey, centre, and Labi Kousoulis are all running to lead Nova Scotia's Liberal party, replacing Premier Stephen McNeil, who is stepping down. They held their first debate Thursday night. (CBC)

Former Nova Scotia health minister Randy Delorey told Liberals who logged on to watch the party's first leadership debate Thursday evening that picking the wrong leader could affect the rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine and slow down the province's recovery from the pandemic.

"We have to get the vaccine rollout correct," said Delorey, who stepped down as health minister in early October to run for the leadership. "That will build confidence and continue to build confidence in our public. It opens the doors within our province to economic recovery."

The comments were meant to reinforce Delorey's message during the online forum between the three men who want to succeed Premier Stephen McNeil, who will officially step down once a new leader is selected.

"We are at a crucial moment in the fight against COVID-19," said Delorey. "Vaccines will arrive next week and we need to get the distribution right. It cannot be interrupted by a transition between leaders."

'We need to rely on our experts,' says Kousoulis

His rivals challenged that assertion during the debate.

"What we don't want is politicians inserting themselves in the operational planning and logistics [of the vaccine distribution]," said former lands and forestry minister Iain Rankin. "We need to rely on our experts that have the skilled training to deal with these types of things."

Former labour minister Labi Kousoulis also took a jab at his former cabinet colleague.

Paula McMahon prepares a shot of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at the NHS Louisa Jordan Hospital in Glasgow on Tuesday, Dec. 8, 2020. (Jeff J Mitchell/Pool via Associated Press)

"I have a lot of faith in our health professionals, I have a lot of faith in Dr. Strang and his team," he said. "Working together, seeing his leadership and his knowledge, not only through this pandemic but through past pandemics gives me a lot of confidence that we are going to get through this from a health perspective, regardless of which one of the three of us becomes premier."

After the debate, Rankin and Kousoulis were more pointed in their criticism of Delorey's suggestion that they might botch the job.

"The decisions on how the vaccine is transported, stored and administered comes from health professionals," said Kousoulis. "None of us politicians are health professionals and we should have nothing to do or say in any aspects of how that vaccine is rolled out."

"I respect my colleague, but I believe that as long as the new premier listens to public health and lets them manage it and doesn't insert any political influence then we'll be okay," said Rankin.

'Leadership does definitely matter,' says Delorey

Delorey maintained his position during a post-debate interview with CBC News.

"I think it's definitely a strong advantage to have the depth of understanding, the experience of going through the first wave," said Delorey.

"I think leadership does definitely matter in how we respond."

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