Nova Scotia NDP leader Gary Burrill is stepping down after nearly six years in the role.
In a press conference Tuesday, Burrill said he will stay on as MLA for Halifax Chebucto and as leader until the party chooses his replacement.
He took over the role in February 2016 after running a leadership campaign that promised to return the party to its left-leaning roots. A United Church minister and self-proclaimed socialist, he has said he views his political work as an expression of his ministry vocation.
Burrill beat out two sitting MLAs for the top job, even though he didn’t have a seat. He was elected in 2017 in the riding of Halifax Chebucto, defeating Liberal incumbent Joaquim Stroink.
He was first elected in Colchester–Musquodoboit Harbour in 2009 and lost the seat when the province’s only NDP government was swept from power in 2013. He was a backbencher and ministerial assistant in Darrell Dexter’s government.
As leader of the third party, Burrill has been a consistent critic of both the Liberal and Progressive Conservative governments on issues like rent control, health care and poverty. He’s been a fixture at labour rallies and protests, particularly during the labour disputes between the Stephen McNeil-led Liberal government and the province’s teachers union.
At the end of this year’s fall sitting, the NDP took credit for forcing Tim Houston’s PC government to commit to ending discriminatory birth alerts, and extend a temporary cap on rent increases until 2023.
“We came into the house and saw a throne speech where rent control didn’t even get a syllable and within two weeks we were able to get a two-year extension on the rent cap,” Burrill said on Nov. 5.
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He led the party into the 2021 election with five seats and expanded the caucus to six members, taking just over 20 per cent of the popular vote.
That was a worse showing than 2017, when the party won just over 21 per cent of the popular vote and elected seven MLAs.
Burrill, who turned 66 during last summer’s provincial election campaign, told reporters on Tuesday the party has 12 months under its rules to find his replacement.
“We have ample time to bring a new leader into place,” he said.
Nova Scotia’s next election is legislated for July 15, 2025. Burrill said once a leader is chosen he will continue to sit as the member for the riding of Halifax-Chebucto, although he wouldn’t say whether he intends to run in the next election.
“I think that’s a decision everyone will make within a year or a year and a half, it’s not a decision for today,” Burrill said.
None of the NDP caucus members was available for comment following the announcement Tuesday, although it’s widely thought that party house leader Claudia Chender will likely be among the potential contenders for the leadership post.
Provincial party president Carol Ferguson thanked Burrill for his time as leader, saying his fight during the pandemic for paid sick leave and the extension of the province’s rent cap are things that would have a “lasting effect on the day-to-day lives of Nova Scotians.”
Ferguson said she would be meeting with the NDP’s executive to review the party’s constitutional guidelines for overseeing the leadership race and for setting a convention date. “We will be doing that as soon as possible,” she told reporters Tuesday.
Meanwhile, Premier Tim Houston thanked Burrill for his work “on behalf of Nova Scotians.”
“While we have not always agreed on policy, he has always wanted to make life better for Nova Scotians and for that I thank him,” Houston said in a statement.
Liberal Leader Iain Rankin also issued a statement, calling Burrill a “consistent voice” on the issues important to the province.
“Few can match his adept oratory that draws in respect from his colleagues on all sides of the legislature,” Rankin said. “His genuine advocacy and consideration on issues of inequality will be missed.”`
— with files from The Canadian Press