Nova Scotia Liberal leader Iain Rankin’s campaign stop in the northern part of the province Tuesday morning didn’t go exactly as planned.
Rankin was joined by veteran politician Bill Casey, who the Liberals recruited to run in the Cumberland North district during the provincial election. They were announcing that they would eliminate non-commercial vehicle fees at the tolled stretch of highway known as the Cobequid Pass this fall if the Liberals are re-elected.
But the announcement was quickly disrupted by protesters supporting Elizabeth Smith-McCrossin, the incumbent in the riding who promoted a protest last month that blocked the highway between Nova Scotia and New Brunswick.
The blockade in the border community was formed by people angered by Rankin’s decision last month to implement a temporary modified self-isolation requirement for New Brunswick. Many people in that district have close friends and family in the neighbouring province.
The blockade led to traffic chaos, disrupted commerce and forced the cancellation of more than 100 medical appointments.
Smith-McCrossin was booted from the Progressive Conservative caucus over the incident and is running in Cumberland North as an independent.
The tensions left over from the blockade were still evident during the Liberal announcement on the fourth day of the campaign trail.
Casey opened the announcement by saying he was “pleased to see all the support” and was promptly met with booing, yelling and jeering. He then said he was glad to hear people expressing their opinions.
He was subsequently met with more boos when introducing Rankin, who announced a re-elected Liberal government would eliminate tolls at Cobequid Pass on Oct. 1.
Rankin said people from that district could feel cut off from the rest of the province, and the elimination of the tolls would help with that.
He acknowledged that the border measures were tough on the residents and said they were necessary to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
“I wanted to thank the residents of Cumberland. I know you’re upset, but I just wanted to let you know –” Rankin said, before being interrupted by a protester shouting “bulls–t” and more yelling and booing.
“I do appreciate the sacrifices that you made to keep Nova Scotians safe so that we led the country in our response to the pandemic,” he finished.
Tuesday’s announcement confirmed an earlier promise of the Liberal government to remove the fees on Highway 104, which was delayed last year to pay for improvements to that portion of road leading motorists to New Brunswick.
Rankin stressed that no jobs would be lost if the tolls were removed, saying that tolls for commercial vehicles will remain. He also said a Liberal government would add rest stops and maintenance facilities on both sides of the highway.
Casey previously represented the area in the House of Commons for years, first as a Conservative, then as an Independent and finally as a Liberal from 2015 to 2019.
The Tories have not yet announced their candidate in the riding for the Aug. 17 election.
With files from The Canadian Press.