HALIFAX – In just over one week Nova Scotia Liberals will choose a new party leader and premier following a race made necessary by last summer’s surprise retirement announcement by Premier Stephen McNeil.
About 8,100 party delegates will choose from a slate of three former McNeil cabinet ministers – Iain Rankin, Randy Delorey and Labi Kousoulis – with the winner to be determined at a virtual convention in Halifax on Feb. 6.
Political experts say the leadership campaign that went entirely virtual because of COVID-19 restrictions has largely flown under the public’s radar because people are for the most part focused on their own lives and on dealing with the pandemic.
“The candidates who are running are experienced in politics and for some people, they will be household names,” Dalhousie University political scientist Lori Turnbull said in an interview.
“But there was no campaign, it seems to me, that really captured a narrative that resonated with people.”
Despite challenges posed by the pandemic, the party missed an opportunity to evolve, Turnbull said, noting that among the candidates there are no women and no one from outside the party.
“This is a continuation of the current government and there is no breath of fresh air here,” she said.
Turnbull said the race is hard to predict because there have been fewer opportunities for candidates to meet delegates one-on-one like during a traditional campaign.
“That’s a big part of trust-building â€¦ and I think they haven’t had as much of an opportunity to reinforce their message in a personal sense.”
Michelle Coffin, who teaches political science at Cape Breton University and is a former communications director for McNeil, said it’s hard to be sure who the front-runner is. She said it’s generally thought to be Delorey, who is being supported by a number of high-profile party luminaries.
Rankin, however, is another candidate who has some significant backing, Coffin said.
“Now how much of that (support) will influence the registered delegates remains to be seen, but that’s why those two candidates make sure that all of those supporters are listed on their websites.”
Delorey, 42, who held the environment, finance and health portfolios, is touting his experience in those high-profile cabinet positions because the new premier will have to deal with the health and economic ramifications of the pandemic.
“I do have the most experience; I can hit the ground running there,” Delorey said in a recent interview.
Delorey has proposed to defer provincial tax and loan payments for businesses after the province’s state of emergency is lifted and has pledged to offer free university tuition for low-income Nova Scotians who have lost their jobs during the pandemic.
“In light of COVID I think it’s the appropriate time to move forward to provide more opportunity, more access to education,” he said.
Rankin, who at 37 is the youngest of the candidates, stresses his youth and his desire to create “generational change” in the party.
“I think there’s a lot to be said where younger people want to see more action on climate change and social inequality,” Rankin said in a recent interview.
Rankin, who was minister of lands and forestry when he announced his candidacy, said he is the “most green” candidate, linking much of his economic platform with environmental concerns.
He promises to end the province’s use of coal to generate electricity by 2030 and has set a goal of having 80 per cent of Nova Scotia’s energy coming from renewable sources by that same year. Rankin also says he wants more electrification of the transportation system.
Kousoulis, 49, was first into the race and says his extensive business experience is the strength of his candidacy. And while none of the candidates have distanced themselves from the fiscally conservative policies of McNeil, it’s Kousoulis who most closely aligns himself with the soon-to-be former premier.
“I am aligned with Stephen’s policies and I have always said that as government, it is no different from your household: You have to live within your means,” he said in a recent interview.
Kousoulis, the former labour minister, stresses the need for economic development in all regions of the province and is pledging $60 million in tax relief to help the small business sector get through the pandemic.
Delegates begin casting ballots on Monday and the voting will continue until 3 p.m. on Feb. 6. The party is using a ranked ballot system to elect its next leader, and each candidate is keenly aware of the need to be at least second choice in case the vote goes to a second ballot.
Coffin said she believes that’s a distinct possibility.
“If the three candidates did their work we shouldn’t see a first-ballot victory, we should see a win on the second ballot,” she said.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 29, 2021.