McNeil hits the ground running on first day as N.S. premier-designate

ABOVE: Stephen McNeil meets with media to discuss the win, having a majority mandate, choosing a cabinet and other policy matters.

HALIFAX – Nova Scotia’s incoming premier didn’t waste any time assuring voters he and his Liberal party colleagues will follow through on the promises made on the campaign trail, tackling questions on energy rates, education and the choosing of his new cabinet.

Stephen McNeil said the Muskrat Falls hydroelectric project in Labrador won’t have his Liberal government’s support unless the price of power is cheaper for customers in his province.

One day after winning a commanding majority government, McNeil said that’s the message he will deliver to Premier Kathy Dunderdale of Newfoundland and Labrador.

McNeil said until there’s assurance of better rates for Nova Scotians, Muskrat Falls will remain on the drawing board.

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“Our issue has always been the deal itself. We felt that the ratepayers are taking all the risk,” he said. “If there’s a new deal coming forward, it’ll go before the regulator. And we, like all Nova Scotians, will be looking at it and making sure it’s in the best interest of the ratepayers.”

READ MORE: Global News Decision Nova Scotia coverage

Speaking in St. John’s, Dunderdale said the project still makes sense for her province — with or without Nova Scotia.

She said she is not worried about the prospect of Muskrat Falls being scuttled.

McNeil’s comments strike a different tone from one that was set by Darrell Dexter, the former NDP premier of Nova Scotia who lost last night’s election.

Dexter was strong supporter of the $7.7-billion project that would transmit power from Labrador to Newfoundland and Cape Breton through subsea links.

McNeil said he will also initiate a comprehensive review of curriculum in the Nova Scotia education system — a public sector left beleaguered in recent years after multiple rounds of layoffs and funding cuts.

“We’re going to begin a curriculum review — the first one in two decades to look at the education system to ensure we’re providing the skills that are required to young Nova Scotians,” he told reporters.

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ABOVE: Stephen McNeil speaks to supporters after his Liberal party is elected to form Nova Scotia’s next government.

The Liberal party ran on a campaign slogan of “Nova Scotia First” and McNeil said he plans to follow through on a commitment to create a new statutory holiday in February, similar to ones in several other provinces, like Ontario, which calls its February holiday “Family Day”.

“Obviously we’ve made a commitment to the people over that,” he said. “What that holiday will be called and how we do it remains to be seen.”

In recent months, there have been suggestions for the government dedicate the day to fishermen, with the Miss Ally tragedy that occurred February in Woods Harbour, N.S. strengthening the call.

In the next two to three weeks, McNeil will also have to choose his cabinet ministers. It’s expected his inner circle will consist of approximately 12 people.

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“I have a great problem,” he said. “Nova Scotians elected a lot of capable people who are capable of being cabinet ministers in this province.”

“Now, the tough task for me is to be able to pick a number of them and then find a role for the other ones to improve public policy and govern this province.”

McNeil’s Liberals won 33 seats, while the New Democrats were relegated to third-party status with seven seats.

The Progressive Conservatives become the Opposition with 11 members elected.

With files from Erin Trafford

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