HALIFAX – Iain Rankin has been sworn-in as the 29th premier of Nova Scotia alongside his 16-member cabinet.
Rankin replaces outgoing premier Stephen McNeil who announced his retirement after 17 years in politics in August.
“We are writing a new chapter for sure, but it is one that reflects and respects our past,” Rankin said in an address after swearing his oath of office. “Governments that have come before ours … have provided us with strong foundations to support our agenda.”
The 37-year-old had served as cabinet minister under McNeil in the environment and the lands and forestry portfolios.
Alongside his role as premier, Rankin will serve as president of the Executive Council and Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs and Regulatory Affairs and Service Effectiveness.
He has named himself the Minister of the Department of L’nu Affairs, formally the Office of Aboriginal Affairs, and will be responsible for youth, military relations and the office of citizen-centered approaches.
Other cabinet decisions — revealed at a ceremony Tuesday at the Halifax Convention Centre — see some departments renamed to better reflect the incoming government’s priorities.
Kelly Regan has become the new deputy premier. She retains her role as Minister of Community Services, will be responsible for the Advisory Council on the Status of Women and will take on the Department of Seniors.
Rankin gave the two men he defeated in the Liberal Leadership campaign plum positions in cabinet.
Randy Delorey will serve as Minister Justice, Minister of Labour Relations and the province’s attorney general.
Labi Kousoulis will serve as the Minister of Finance and Treasury Board as well as the Minister of Inclusive Economic Growth, the renamed department of business.
He’ll also be responsible for trade.
Kousoulis will have the tough task of balancing fiscal discipline with the need to bolster an economy damaged by the pandemic. Nova Scotia went from a projected surplus of $55 million to a deficit of $779 million over the past fiscal year – a figure former premier Stephen McNeil recently said would be closer to $500 million by this spring’s budget.
“The work will be to ensure that we’re supporting Nova Scotians and getting ourselves back on a solid financial footing,” Kousoulis said. He said that while the upcoming budget is already largely prepared, there could be a chance to tinker by adding some of Rankin’s priorities.
New faces at the table
Rankin named three backbenchers to his cabinet.
Keith Irving has been appointed Minister of Environment and Climate Change, previously known as the department of environment.
The renamed department is meant to recognize the importance of climate change to government policy.
Irving will also serve as the Chair of the Treasury and Policy Board.
Irving, a former architect who lived for 26 years in Iqaluit, said he’s ready to deal with what has been a long-time interest. “While living in the Arctic in the early ’90s, I saw the effects of climate change,” he said. “It was very real there and it is now very real for all of Canada and Nova Scotia.”
Ben Jessome will become Minister of the Public Service Commission while Brendan Macguire is the new Minister of Municipal Affairs.
Zach Churchill, who previously helmed the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development and Municipal Affairs, was named as the new Minister of Health.
He will also oversee the new Office of Mental Health and Addictions.
Chuck Porter returns to cabinet as the Minister of Lands and Forestry and the Minister of Energy and Mines.
Derek Mombourquette will become the Minister of Education.
Tony Ince will return to cabinet to lead the new Office of Equity and Anti-Racism Initiatives and adds Communications Nova Scotia to his role. He will also retain responsibility for the Office of African Nova Scotian Affairs.
Lena Diab has been named as the Minister of Immigration and Population Growth, previously known as the Office of Immigration.
It’s a move that Rankin says is meant to emphasize the important role of immigration in the economy. Diab will remain in charge as the Minister of Labour, Minister of Advanced Education, Minister of Acadian Affairs and Francophonie.
Under Rankin, the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal has been split.
Geoff MacLellan will lead the new Department of Infrastructure and Housing while Lloyd Hines will remain as the Minister of the Transportation and Active Transit.
MacLellan has said he won’t be running in the next election.
Keith Colwell remains as Minister of Agriculture and Minister of Fisheries and Aquaculture.
Patricia Arab retained her role as Minister of Service Nova Scotia and Internal Services.
Suzanne Lohnes-Croft will remain the Minister of Communities, Culture and Heritage and Gaelic Affairs. She will also be responsible for the Voluntary Sector.
Lt.-Gov. Arthur LeBlanc presided over the swearing-in ceremony.
Election on the horizon
Rankin takes office with a shortened window to establish himself – a provincial election must be called by the spring of 2022.
Rankin, however, said he is immediately focused on governing and dealing with important issues such as jobs, the economy and tackling the COVID-19 pandemic.
He told reporters there is no shortage of challenges.
“I’m really impressed with the team that I have and I’m putting them in the right place to help me deliver on the commitments I made during the leadership campaign, Rankin said. “Issues of climate change, inequality and building back a strong economy that’s more inclusive.”
– with files from The Canadian Press