McNeil traded tool­box for the premier’s of­fice

Cape Breton Post - - Cape Breton -

Be­fore he led Nova Sco­tia, he car­ried a tool­box.

But re-elected Lib­eral Premier Stephen McNeil, 52, comes from a fam­ily that does things in a big way, so 14 years ago he left his job run­ning an ap­pli­ance re­pair shop to en­ter pol­i­tics.

Pub­lic ser­vice and fam­ily have al­ways fig­ured promi­nently in his life.

McNeil — a soft-spo­ken man with a lower-reg­is­ter voice and some­what im­pos­ing six-foot­five frame — is the 12th of 17 chil­dren.

His late mother, Theresa McNeil, was left to raise the fam­ily on her own when her hus­band, Burt, choked to death while eat­ing Sunday din­ner when McNeil was eight years old.

That didn’t stop her from later be­com­ing the high sher­iff of An­napo­lis County — the first woman to hold such a po­si­tion in Canada.

“She had no driver’s li­cence and hadn’t worked out­side the house ... The next morn­ing, she woke up and said, ‘We’re it.’ We were all look­ing at her,’’ said McNeil in an in­ter­view this spring, re­call­ing his fa­ther’s death decades ago.

McNeil stud­ied re­frig­er­a­tion re­pair in Dart­mouth, N.S., be­fore open­ing his own ap­pli­ance re­pair shop in Bridgetown, east of the fam­ily home in Granville Ferry, N.S.

He first won a seat in the leg­is­la­ture in 2003, al­though the Lib­er­als fin­ished third across the province.

McNeil won re-elec­tion in 2006 and a year later he was elected to lead the party.

He faced his first elec­tion as leader in 2009, when the NDP un­der Dar­rell Dex­ter swept to power, be­com­ing the first New Demo­cratic govern­ment east of On­tario.

His party pum­melled the New Democrats in the 2013 elec­tion, win­ning a ma­jor­ity

govern­ment. The NDP dropped to third place, while the Pro­gres­sive Con­ser­va­tives gained some ground to be­come Of­fi­cial Op­po­si­tion.

McNeil lives in the An­napo­lis Val­ley with his wife An­drea and has two grown chil­dren: Colleen, 27, and Jef­frey, 25.

McNeil — a self-de­scribed fis­cal con­ser­va­tive — has made it his mis­sion as premier to balance the province’s books.

He has promised four deficit­free bud­gets, hav­ing al­ready tabled two con­sec­u­tive bal­anced bud­gets dur­ing a ten­ure marked by a tight-fisted ap­proach to pub­lic spend­ing.

Through­out his first term, the premier took aim at pub­lic sec­tor unions, say­ing mem­bers’

wages have in­creased 11.5 per cent over the past seven years, well above the in­creases seen in the pri­vate sec­tor.

“Most Nova Sco­tians who aren’t in the pub­lic sec­tor would have liked to have that over the last seven years,’’ said McNeil. “But) we didn’t re­move any­thing. We just said, ‘Let’s just slow down and let the econ­omy catch up.’’’

In Fe­bru­ary, McNeil’s govern­ment im­posed a con­tract on 9,400 pub­lic school teach­ers, end­ing a two-month work-to-rule cam­paign.

And the govern­ment forced 2,400 strik­ing nurses back to work in April 2014 by in­tro­duc­ing leg­is­la­tion that re­quires all health-sec­tor unions to draft

es­sen­tial ser­vices agree­ments be­fore any job ac­tion can oc­cur.

Those moves have made him some en­e­mies.

But, af­ter years of belt­tight­en­ing, the Lib­er­als said they would turn to spend­ing in ar­eas such as health care, com­mu­nity ser­vices and em­ploy­ment.

A cor­ner­stone of the Lib­er­als’ plat­form was a broad mid­dle class tax cut, rais­ing the ba­sic per­sonal ex­emp­tion for any­one tak­ing home $75,000 a year or less.

With the size of the Lib­er­als’ vic­tory un­clear late Tues­day — and whether they will win a sec­ond ma­jor­ity — their abil­ity to en­act their agenda was yet to be de­ter­mined.

CP PHOTO

Nova Sco­tia Premier Stephen McNeil votes in the pro­vin­cial elec­tion at the com­mu­nity cen­tre in Granville Cen­tre, N.S. on Tues­day.

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