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‘Who’s next?’ N.S. Liberals can build and rebrand, political scientists say

Click to play video: 'Chance for NS Liberal Party rebuild with Rankin stepping down' Chance for NS Liberal Party rebuild with Rankin stepping down
With Nova Scotia Liberal Leader Iain Rankin announcing he'll step down as soon as a successor is chosen, there's a clear chance for a rebuild of the party. And political scientists say defining what the party stands for will be a significant part of that. Callum Smith reports – Jan 6, 2022

There are now two prominent Nova Scotia political parties searching for a new person to take the helm.

The Liberals joined the NDP Wednesday when Iain Rankin, the province’s 29th premier for six months, announced he’d step down when a successor was chosen.

“That’s going to be a very interesting phenomenon, and the parties are so close in terms of their values and their policies and things like that,” says Lori Turnbull, the director of Dalhousie University’s School of Public Administration.

Rankin, 38, saw his party’s campaign never really get off the ground after he called a provincial election in July.

Then, he and the Liberals faced a subsequent upset on Aug. 17, when Tim Houston secured a Progressive Conservative majority win.

Read more: N.S. Liberal leader Iain Rankin announces he’s stepping down, 5 months after election loss

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Rankin says the holidays allowed him to reflect — and that his decision to step aside is best for both his family and the party.

“It’s amazing how senior a person can be in politics,” Turnbull says, “and how quickly they become … OK, who’s next? And that’s the issue now, right, is who’s next?”

Professor suggests some potential candidates

But running for leader wouldn’t be an “extremely lucrative job” in the short-term, says Tom Urbaniak, a political science professor at Cape Breton University.

The Liberals will be in opposition at least until July 2025, when the next provincial election is set to take place.

“I think some folks who might not have run the last time will actually give some serious consideration this time,” he says.

Read more: ANALYSIS: Federal cash fuels launch of Nova Scotia Liberal campaign

Urbaniak says while there could be some strong candidates from outside the Liberal caucus, some veteran Liberal MLAs could be asked about running.

“Some obvious names have come up,” he says, referring to Zach Churchill, Kelly Regan, and “perhaps Derek Mombourquette from Cape Breton.”

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“I’m looking at some newcomers in the House of Assembly as well, people who will be tempted to run even if they don’t think victory is a shoo-in.”

“Someone like Angela Simmonds,” he says, “I would certainly be asking her at some point whether she is considering running.”

He wonders if Rafah Di Costanzo or Tony Ince would also consider vying for the leadership role.

Building and rebranding

Rankin’s announcement to step down comes two months before a leadership review was slated to take place, but Joseph Khoury, the party president, confirms that has now been cancelled.

Click to play video: 'Iain Rankin steps down as Nova Scotia Liberal leader' Iain Rankin steps down as Nova Scotia Liberal leader
Iain Rankin steps down as Nova Scotia Liberal leader – Jan 5, 2022

The party is also doing a campaign review.

Suffice to say, there are lots of opportunities to build and rebrand the party.

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Rankin suggested the chance to modernize the party and work on better communication.

“Is the party at a point where they really have to start thinking about remaking themselves in a way that’s more modern to be able to continue to be as successful as they have been in the past? What will that mean? What will that mean in terms of recruitment of candidates?” Turnbull asks. “What will that mean in terms of their processes for vetting candidates? What in the heck happened in Dartmouth South?”

Read more: Bad campaign, leader who didn’t connect with voters led to N.S. Liberal loss: experts

Turnbull says it takes a lot to remake or change an organization such as a political party.

Khoury, the president, says they’re hoping for a large slate of candidates.

“We want to send the message that we want as much diversity as we can,” he says. “We want to have as many ideas out there for the membership to think about as possible.”

“Modernization will involve determining what the Liberal Party actually is and what it stands for,” Urbaniak says. “Philosophically, is it a party that leans to the right? That leans to the left? Is it a progressive party? Is it a diverse party? What are its key policy planks?”

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“What is the Liberal Party Nova Scotia? What does it actually stand for, especially at a time that the Progressive Conservatives have pivoted toward the center and are so far running a fairly pragmatic government?” he questions.

Moving forward

While Rankin is only staying leader until a new one is named, he says he’ll remain as the MLA for Timberlea-Prospect.

Results of the campaign review are expected within the next two weeks.

Read more: N.S. election a sign for federal Liberals: Pandemic performance not the only thing that matters

And no date has been declared for a leadership convention, but the party has 30 days from Wednesday to announce a timeline.

The next provincial election is set for July 15, 2025.

“The Liberals, this time, have the luxury of time,” Urbaniak says, “and they would be well-advised to use it.”

Click to play video: 'O’Toole Tories cheer Nova Scotia PC win, Trudeau Liberals look for lessons' O’Toole Tories cheer Nova Scotia PC win, Trudeau Liberals look for lessons
O’Toole Tories cheer Nova Scotia PC win, Trudeau Liberals look for lessons – Aug 18, 2021

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