McNeil traded toolbox for the premier’s office
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.
Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil votes in the provincial election at the community centre in Granville Centre, N.S. on Tuesday.