Nova Scotia

Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil to step down after 17 years in politics

Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil announced Thursday he will be stepping down but will stay on until a new Liberal Party leader is chosen.

Decided to resign before COVID-19 pandemic, but 'all of those plans were put on hold'

'I love this job. I've enjoyed every day of it,' said Stephen McNeil, adding that he will not make it his lifelong career. 1:22

Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil announced Thursday he will step down.

McNeil was first elected in 2003 as MLA for Annapolis and has been premier since 2013.

"Seventeen years is a long time," he said at a media availability that was broadcast live following a cabinet meeting, "and it's long enough."

McNeil said he had made the decision to resign prior to the coronavirus pandemic, but he reconsidered when the virus arrived in Nova Scotia in March.

"All of those plans were put on hold, and I gave this my all. I spent five weeks here without ever getting home to my own property and my own home. [I was] away from my family because I was working with Public Health and with our team to try to get control of it." 

McNeil said he will continue to act as premier and Liberal Party leader until the party chooses a replacement. He said he expected a leadership campaign to take months. Nova Scotia does not have fixed election dates but is due for an election by 2022.

"We're at a position right now where I felt the window for me to — I either had to say I was going, or I was too late."

The long-serving politician is in his second term of a majority government. He said he feels two terms is a long time for one person to hold that responsibility and for the province to have the same leader.

McNeil makes a campaign stop at a farmers' market in Bedford, N.S., in May 2017. (The Canadian Press)

'This is not a lifelong career'

Before announcing his resignation, McNeil gave a seven-minute speech rounding up his time in office and took questions from reporters for more than 30 minutes. 

McNeil said he didn't pursue politics with the ambition to become party leader or premier.

"I ran in the first case wanting to change the community and help support the community I live in, one that I was raised in and one where our kids were raised," he said.

Before being elected as MLA for his rural community, McNeil owned and operated a small appliance repair business.

When he was first elected, the Liberals were the third-ranking party in the province behind the governing Progressive Conservatives and opposition NDP.

McNeil was leader when the party became the Official Opposition in 2009, and then defeated the governing New Democrats in 2013 to form a majority government.

McNeil at his campaign headquarters in Bridgetown, N.S., on election night in 2013 after winning the provincial election. McNeil is joined by his children, Colleen and Jeffrey, and his wife Andrea. (Mike Dembeck/The Canadian Press)

"I spent the last six years doing what I think is in the best interest of all Nova Scotians," he said Thursday.  

McNeil touched on some of the polarizing decisions he and his government have made, including imposing contracts on several public-sector unions.

"Of course we all remember the unions rallying around Province House. That wasn't an easy time. We asked our public-sector unions to take less — not take nothing, just take less."

He connected those spending decisions to his government's track record for balancing the budget, which is a point of pride often touted by McNeil. His government's latest budget, passed in March, was balanced at the time before being blown apart by COVID-19.

Health care was a hot-button issue in Nova Scotia even before the pandemic, with constant criticism from opposition parties about McNeil's handling of a shortage of physicians and scrutiny of plans to redevelop the province's largest hospital system.

In his remarks Thursday, McNeil highlighted that his government is spending hundreds of millions of dollars on the hospital project.

McNeil said he celebrated his 17th anniversary in elected office on Wednesday.

"I love this job. I've enjoyed every day of it, and every day I'm inspired by the people of this province. But this is not a lifelong career."

McNeil said he doesn't have any plans lined up for when he steps away from public office.

McNeil at a recent COVID-19 press briefing. (Communications Nova Scotia)

A 'historic day'

Leaders from both of the province's opposition parties offered well wishes to McNeil in statements after his announcement.

"The premier and his family deserve thanks for their sacrifices during a life dedicated to public service. Seventeen years is a long time at any job. Seventeen years as an elected official serving our province is a remarkable accomplishment," said Tim Houston, leader of the Official Opposition Progressive Conservatives.

NDP Leader Gary Burrill said Thursday marked a "historic day."

"I have valued the opportunity to debate Premier McNeil on the issues that matter most to people in our communities. Although we have frequently differed over the path forward for our province, we have enjoyed a relationship of mutual respect."

Once McNeil officially steps down, the 55-year-old will immediately qualify for a $120,000-a-year pension.

McNeil gets a kiss from a supporter at his election night celebration in Bridgetown, N.S., in 2017. (Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press)

About the Author

Taryn Grant

Reporter

Taryn Grant is a Halifax-based reporter and web writer for CBC Nova Scotia. You can email her with tips and feedback at taryn.grant@cbc.ca

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