Nova Scotia·Analysis

A look at the McNeil government's early priorities, plans and promises

While Premier Stephen McNeil and his Liberal caucus are celebrating their second-straight majority win, plenty of work and questions await them right out of the gates.

Cabinet shuffle coming, but budget and approach to contracts unlikely to change

Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil talks with reporters at the legislature in Halifax on Wednesday. McNeil's Liberals won a second majority in Tuesday's provincial election. (Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press)

Stephen McNeil and his Liberal team's majority win in the provincial election might mean it will be business as usual for the next four years, but the Grits have plenty of issues to address in the early days of their second mandate.

As the dust settles on Tuesday's results, here's a look at some of the more pressing matters facing McNeil and his government.

Assembling a cabinet

McNeil lost two cabinet ministers in the election: Energy Minister Michel Samson and Community Services Minister Joanne Bernard.

Samson was also House leader, the minister responsible for trade and minister responsible for Acadian affairs. He was also essentially McNeil's right hand in the most contentious of government affairs.

Both will need to be replaced and McNeil said he would use it as a chance to review everyone in caucus for potential posts. Tom Hayes, former Liberal chief of staff, will lead a transition team to determine who fits best where.

Who replaces Samson as House leader could speak volumes about the kind of tone the Liberals set in the legislature during their second mandate. Given the challenges related to health care, that portfolio takes on even more significance than usual and will likely require someone with an especially deft hand at dealing with contentious issues.

Bringing in a budget

A majority means McNeil won't need to strike a deal with the Tories or NDP, or make any concessions in order to pass his budget, which was introduced before the election.

While he conceded health care was a big issue during the campaign, McNeil said he doesn't think more money than what's been pledged is required to make the necessary changes.

"I believe we can do that without running deficits," he said. "I believe we can do that within the surplus we have."

It's not known when the budget will be debated in the House.

Education plans

While a budget has yet to be passed, McNeil said plans to hire almost 140 new public school teachers and begin the rollout of more pre-primary programs for four-year-old children will go ahead immediately. 

A budgetary provision allows school boards to spend up to 50 per cent equivalent to their allocation from the previous fiscal year as they wait for the budget to be passed. 

We're going to continue to make sure we live within our means.- Premier Stephen McNeil

McNeil said the Liberals' majority status allows them to send a signal to school boards that things will go ahead as planned.

"They'll be able to meet those obligations that are required and then when the budget is passed, it would be able to fill in the entire budget for them."

Contract contention

The Liberals' first mandate was punctuated by contract-related battles with public sector unions and McNeil signalled Wednesday he has no plans to change his course now.

With negotiations still outstanding with health-care workers and the civil service, the premier said no one should expect a change in approach — one that has included wage freezes and the end of certain retirement benefits.

"We're going to continue to make sure we live within our means," he said.

"Nova Scotians have done a lot of hard work over the last 3½ years and I think we have to be reflective of that and mindful of that."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Michael Gorman is a reporter in Nova Scotia whose coverage areas include Province House, rural communities, and health care. Contact him with story ideas at michael.gorman@cbc.ca

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