Premier is going but don't expect him gone until 2021
Liberal Party board has 30 days to set a date but, there's an 18-month window for leadership vote
Stephen McNeil chose Thursday to announce he's ready to leave the premier's office and step down as leader of the Nova Scotia Liberal Party, but the actual timing of his departure is in the hands of the people on the party's provincial board.
Party president Joseph Khoury said the group would be bound by a timeline set in its constitution.
"We have 30 days to implement the process that we want to follow," he said from his home in Antigonish, N.S.
That would include "the kind of convention, the timelines," he said. He said the party has up to 18 months to hold a convention.
The ongoing pandemic may complicate the process and preclude holding what can be a boisterous and well-attended party gathering.
When asked what kind of convention might be possible in the next 18 months given COVID-19 concerns, he said "that is a $64,000 question."
"We obviously, at this point, cannot have a normal convention where you have hundreds of people gathering and chatting and negotiating," he said.
"That obviously has to change. We will have to look at all the public health guidelines and basically take the best advice from public health about how we want to proceed."
Tom Hayes, a chief of staff to former Liberal premier Russell MacLellan, said no one should expect McNeil to leave office this year.
Hayes helped run the successful leadership campaign of Danny Graham, who led the party almost two years, from 2002 to 2004.
"I'm guessing, and I have no inside information, but I doubt we're going to see a convention. I would say January at the earliest and more likely February timeframe would be my guess," he said.
Hayes wouldn't expect anyone even to throw their hat into the ring until the party outlined the rules.
"All candidates will want time to attract new members who they believe will support them in the race, so the end date for which you can attract new members is always important," he said.
So, too, is sizing up your competition, according to Hayes.
Member of caucus advantage
"If you're currently a member of caucus and well known within the party, that's an advantage from the get-go," he said. "If you're an outsider wanting to come in and lead the party, you might not have the same name recognition."
Kristen Hines, who helped Stephen McNeil win the leader's job and later worked as his chief of staff in the premier's office, said the people tasked to make the rules and set the date for a leadership vote face a big job.
"The committee will need to strike a balance — allowing time for a robust race, while at the same time respecting the fact that the new leader will need time to introduce themselves to Nova Scotians, articulate a vision and prepare for the next election," she wrote in an email to CBC News.
Prospective leaders have a daunting task, according to Hines. They need to ask themselves many questions, including if they can win or hold a seat, if they can build a team with representation from across the province and if they can raise the money required to mount a leadership campaign and sustain the funding.