Nova Scotians headed to the polls May 30
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.
“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.”
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.”
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.”
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.