Nova Scotia

Nova Scotians will have a new premier by spring, says political analyst

A political analyst says he anticipates Nova Scotia will have a new premier by early spring.

Public relations experts reflect on Premier Stephen McNeil's time in office

Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil announced Thursday that he will be stepping down after 17 years in public office. (Ted Pritchard/The Canadian Press)

A political analyst says he anticipates Nova Scotia will have a new premier by early spring.

Chris Lydon, the regional senior vice-president at m5 Public Affairs in Halifax, said he believes the party will take a couple of months to learn how to organize an election during the COVID-19 pandemic and then a few more months to give Liberal leadership candidates time to campaign.

"Don't forget, this is an internal party popularity contest and the winner becomes premier, not just leader, so it'll be enticing, I think, for a number of candidates," he told CBC's Mainstreet.

Premier Stephen McNeil announced Thursday that he will be stepping down after 17 years in public office, the last seven of which have been as premier. He said he will continue to act as premier and Liberal Party leader until the party chooses a replacement. He said he expects a leadership campaign to take months.

Nova Scotia does not have fixed election dates but is due for an election by 2022.

McNeil, who represented Annapolis in the legislature, said he made the decision to resign prior to the pandemic, but reconsidered when the coronavirus arrived in Nova Scotia in March.

Barbara Emodi, a former communications professor at Mount Saint Vincent University in Halifax, said McNeil stepped down at exactly the right time.

"He really has been the captain of this little ship through the pandemic [and] is being very much lauded across the country for the job he's done," Emodi told Mainstreet. "And to to go out at the height of your popularity has got to feel good."

McNeil's legacy

During the announcement, McNeil reflected on key moments of his career, mentioning the recent presumed consent organ donation bill and the Nova Scotia Home for Colored Children inquiry. McNeil also issued a formal apology in 2014 to the former residents who were abused at the Dartmouth, N.S., orphanage.

"He's the premier that addressed the Home for Colored Children when other premiers wouldn't," said Michelle Coffin, a former political science professor at Dalhousie University and Saint Mary's University who worked with McNeil before he became premier.

"He's the premier that committed to and followed through on Boat Harbour when no other premier did. And he's the premier that worked harder than any other to build, not maintain, but to build stronger relationships with the province's Indigenous leadership," she told Mainstreet.

"And for that, I think Liberals will look back and will think that he provided a great legacy for Liberals over this 17-year period."

'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

She said she was surprised McNeil didn't discuss his balanced budgets.

"He's very committed to his economic vision of the future and while some might not agree with those decisions, he had the fortitude that other premiers have not had to follow through on many of those difficult decisions," Coffin said.

But Lydon said McNeil was likely speaking from the heart during his announcement.

"His legacy will show him to have been a financial steward ... and that's what history will write," he said. "But these more emotionally substantive public policy initiatives that he was able to champion and get across the line, today are what's going to be most important to him."

Barbara Emodi, a political commentator and communications professor, said McNeil chose a good time to step down from office. (CBC)

But Coffin said he wasn't able to do it all. She said he often didn't take advantage of the surpluses the province had under his watch.

"When he became Liberal leader in 2007, the most important issue to him was poverty ... I'm surprised that when he became premier, there was not more attention given to alleviating poverty in the province," she said.

According to a 2019 report, one in four mainland children and one in three Cape Breton children live in poverty. The national child poverty average is one in five.

"I did not think that's where we would be today after seven years of his leadership," Coffin said.

With files from CBC's Mainstreet