Elec­tion called

Nova Sco­tians headed to the polls May 30

Cape Breton Post - - Front Page - BY LAWRENCE POW­ELL

Nova Sco­tians were on the edge of their col­lec­tive seats Satur­day, wait­ing for Premier Stephen McNeil to call an elec­tion.

The Pro­gres­sive Con­ser­va­tives were so sure an elec­tion call was com­ing leader Jamie Bail­lie launched his cam­paign, while the New Democrats hit the cam­paign trail en masse.

A leaked cam­paign im­age that ap­peared briefly on the Lib­eral Party’s web­site Fri­day, fea­tur­ing McNeil with a May 30 elec­tion date, only served to in­crease speculation that an elec­tion call was im­mi­nent.

But, as McNeil drove home to Up­per Granville that night, he had no in­ten­tion of dis­solv­ing the gov­ern­ment the next day. In­stead, his wife, An­drea, greeted him that evening with a fa­mil­iar gift: a vase con­tain­ing 10 yel­low rosesh, his mother’s favourite flower, each one sig­ni­fy­ing a year as party leader.

She’s done it ev­ery year since he won the lead­er­ship 10 years ago in the sec­ond-round bal­lot against Diana Whalen, the woman who would go on to be­come his deputy premier.

McNeil spent April 29 with fam­ily and friends, then made the fa­mil­iar drive back to Hal­i­fax. He’s done it count­less times be­fore over the last decade, but this time was dif­fer­ent. He was on his way to visit Lt.-Gov. J.J. Grant.

At 1 p.m. on Sun­day, the writ was dropped, trig­ger­ing a 30-day elec­tion cam­paign — the min­i­mum re­quired un­der pro­vin­cial law. Nova Sco­tians will go to the polls May 30.

Hard work

“Over the last three and a half years, Nova Sco­tians have worked ex­tremely hard to get this prov­ince back to fis­cal health,” McNeil said in an ex­clu­sive in­ter­view with the An­napo­lis Val­ley Reg­is­ter.

“We are now in a po­si­tion, be­cause of their hard work, to have op­tions.”

Nova Sco­tia’s 28th premier said he’s pre­sent­ing Nova Sco­tians with an agenda that he be­lieves re­flects that hard work.

While the Lib­eral plat­form is yet to be of­fi­cially un­veiled, McNeil said the bud­get brought down April 27 cer­tainly con­tains some of it.

“This bud­get we in­tro­duced re­ally re­flects what Nova Sco­tians have done over the last three and a half years and it’s a bud­get that re­flects a launch­ing pad to con­tinue to move this prov­ince for­ward. We’re very proud of the work and we need a new man­date.”

Re­cent poll num­bers re­leased last week in­di­cate that while the Lib­er­als have lost sup­port, 43 per cent of de­cided Nova Sco­tians in­tent to vote Lib­eral. Those num­bers, McNeil says, played no part in his de­ci­sion to hold a spring elec­tion. And polls have played no part in de­ci­sions made over the past three and a half years. He said his de­ci­sions have been made based on what he thought were the right things to do.

“They were not easy in some cases, and we had no idea what im­pact they would have on the polls,” he said. “They were just sim­ply some­thing that I felt was re­quired for all of us to move this prov­ince for­ward. We’ve con­tin­ued to make those de­ci­sions.”

He used the ed­u­ca­tion is­sue as an ex­am­ple of one of the most dif­fi­cult de­ci­sions.

“The eas­i­est thing for me to do would have been to try to push it off and get through an elec­tion,” he said. “But that’s not gov­ern­ing. I’ve been asked to gov­ern and I’m go­ing to gov­ern to what I be­lieve is in the best in­ter­est of all of us.”

Top pri­or­ity

McNeil said growth is his top pri­or­ity for Nova Sco­tia.

“Grow­ing the econ­omy, mak­ing sure that the ser­vices that we have are sta­bi­lized and can be im­proved on, but in or­der to that we need growth,” he said. “We need to grow our pop­u­la­tion, we need to grow our econ­omy, we need to grow op­por­tu­ni­ties for Nova Sco­tians here so that we con­tinue to in­vest in that in­fra­struc­ture like health care, at­tract­ing fam­ily physi­cians, in­vest­ing back in class­rooms. In or­der to achieve all that, we’ll need growth.”

In­vest­ing in tra­di­tional sec­tors must con­tinue, he said, while grow­ing new sec­tors such as tech­nol­ogy and in­no­va­tion.

“All of which can hap­pen not just in ur­ban Nova Sco­tia but can hap­pen in ru­ral Nova Sco­tia,” he said, adding that im­mi­gra­tion plays an im­por­tant part to move the prov­ince for­ward.

“We need more peo­ple com­ing in, pro­vid­ing job op­por­tu­ni­ties, cre­at­ing job op­por­tu­ni­ties, to make sure that this prov­ince has the ca­pac­ity to ful­fil all of the things that we need to ful­fill in terms of pro­vid­ing pub­lic ser­vice but at the same time peo­ple com­ing in and cre­at­ing jobs.”

Proud mo­ment

For McNeil, a sin­gle mo­ment stands out as his proud­est mo­ment as premier.

“I wanted more Nova Sco­tians to see them­selves in our in­sti­tu­tions,” he said. “The Home for Coloured Chil­dren was an im­por­tant is­sue for me when I came into gov­ern­ment. It was through sys­temic racism that those young African Nova Sco­tian kids were not given the same start that their white coun­ter­parts were.”

He wanted to fix that wrong — and see what could be learned and changed.

“We’ve def­i­nitely been able to change the face of the bench,” he said. “One of my proud­est days is be­ing able to say that I ap­pointed the first Mi’kmaq per­son to the bench in Nova Sco­tia’s his­tory. I ap­pointed three more African Nova Sco­tians to the bench. I ap­pointed the first LGBT com­mu­nity mem­ber to the bench. Those are a re­flec­tion of who we are and they were im­por­tant steps for­ward and it was very sat­is­fy­ing for me on a per­sonal level.”

Asked if he could go back to the be­gin­ning of his man­date and change any­thing, McNeil pointed to the phar­ma­care is­sue.

“The phar­ma­care is­sue was a mis­take on our part in the sense that there was a prob­lem there par­tic­u­larly for a lot of low-in­come se­niors that we were try­ing to fix, but in the process of try­ing to fix it, we cre­ated a prob­lem for oth­ers,” he said. “We ad­mit­ted it and fixed that.”

McNeil ad­mits he has more work to do but is very proud of his record in gov­ern­ment.

“We came in with a bal­loon­ing deficit, zero ca­pac­ity to make choices on the fi­nan­cial side,” he said. “We did so by not rolling back any­body’s wages, cut­ting no jobs. But we did so by con­trol­ling costs and mak­ing sure when we made an in­vest­ment it was a thought­ful one that would grow op­por­tu­ni­ties. At the same time, we asked peo­ple to have salary in­creases that were re­flec­tive of the prov­ince.”

He said the prov­ince is now in the po­si­tion to take it to the next level.

“Nova Sco­tians should rec­og­nize that we’ve pro­vided fair, de­ci­sive, solid lead­er­ship to deal with the chal­lenges we faced and we’re lay­ing out a plan for the next four years,” he said. “Here is what we can do and here is what we be­lieve we should do with the work that you’ve been able to help us ac­com­plish.”

LAWRENCE POW­ELL/SALTWIRE NET­WORK

Nova Sco­tia Premier Stephen McNeil with his wife, An­dre are in front of fam­ily pho­tos and a vase of 10 yel­low roses. An­drea McNeil pre­sented him with the flow­ers when he ar­rived home from work on Fri­day — ex­actly 10 years to the day he was elected leader of the Lib­eral Party. On Sun­day he dis­solved his gov­ern­ment and called a pro­vin­cial elec­tion for May 30.

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