Iain Rankin says he’s listened and learned. Now it’s time to lead

On Tuesday, February 23, Rankin got his first chance as premier to make his first lasting impression on Nova Scotians. What did he say? What should he have said? Compare with my columnist’s suggested first announcements

After Nova Scotia Lieutenant-Governor Arthur LeBlanc performs his ceremonial and socially distanced laying on of hands at the Halifax Convention Centre on Tuesday, February 23 — instantly transforming Iain Rankin, the twice-elected MLA for Timberlea-Prospect, into Iain Rankin, the suddenly unelected premier of all he surveys — our 29th premier will get a first chance to make a lasting first impression on Nova Scotians.

After the lanky, boyish-looking 37-year-old won the Liberal Party leadership on Feb. 6 and earned the right to succeed the equally lanky but no longer boyish-looking 56-year-old Stephen McNeil, Rankin described himself as an “agent of generational change” and promised to be a “collaborative” leader.

Although he will arrive in office with his ambitious “six-pillars” reform agenda in his back pocket — “smart investments in infrastructure, modernized health care, an equitable economic recovery, bold climate action, social equity and racial justice” — the reality is that Rankin will need time to make good enough on any of those bold and progressive promises to reasonably justify seeking his own electoral mandate.

So, when he steps before the microphones — real or virtual, or virtually real — after the ceremony on Tuesday, Rankin will need to offer immediate, clear and convincing evidence he is not Stephen McNeil.

Allow me to offer a few modest suggestions for how he might accomplish that.

You’re welcome.

Start with this. “My government accepts, without reservation, last week’s decision by Nova Scotia Supreme Court Justice Richard Coughlan, ordering us to disclose the annual management fee Nova Scotia taxpayers pay Bay Ferries Ltd. not to manage the Yarmouth-to-maybe-somewhere-in-Maine ferry.

“The judge is right. ‘The province did not agree the management fee was confidential,’ so the exemptions to the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act — the skirts of which the former premier tried to hide behind — ‘do not apply to the requested information.’

“Should Bay Ferries Ltd., which has so far been paid millions of dollars in management fees, decide to appeal the judge’s decision, we will seek to intervene in support of the lawsuit brought by Opposition Leader Tim Houston in 2019.

“In part, that’s because we believe it is time to finally live up to my predecessor’s false boast that Nova Scotia’s government is the most transparent in the country.

“After seven years of trying to marginalize and muzzle the duly elected opposition at every turn, we also see this as an opportunity to signal our intention to move forward in a spirit of collaboration and bipartisanship.

In that spirit, I am instructing all Liberal members of legislative committees to immediately cease and desist their routine practice of preventing those committees from performing their legitimate oversight functions by refusing to meet, or to allow the committee to hear from appropriate witnesses.

“Furthermore — and back to the ferry — I am announcing today that my government will undertake an immediate and urgent cost-benefit analysis of the ferry service to determine if there are better ways to support tourism and sustainable economic development in southwestern Nova Scotia. If that analysis — which will include taking into account the longer-term impact of the pandemic on international leisure travel plans — shows Nova Scotians are not getting a reasonable return on our investment, I will not hesitate to invoke Clause 14.03 in the current contract, which allows the province to terminate the deal ‘without cause’…

(b) at any time during the fourth to sixth years of the term upon payment to Bay Ferries Ltd of an amount equal to two (2) times the Base Management Fee.

“Such a penalty will undoubtedly be costly but not nearly as costly as continuing until the contract ends in 2025 with a failed service that provides neither service nor regional economic development.

“My fellow Nova Scotians, this is not the end, but the beginning of the kind of generational and transformative change I intend to bring to Nova Scotians.

“Thank you.”

Allow me one last personal aside on the 28th premier of Nova Scotia. As a columnist, I will miss Stephen McNeil. He was the grumpy gift that kept on giving. The ongoing ferry follies, starring McNeil and his sidekick, Transportation Minister Lloyd “I-Know-Nothing” Hines, were inevitably good for at least s few easy columns a year. As was his transparent disdain for transparency norms. Even his occasional best moments — “Stay the blazes home” — were column-worthy. My virtual pen will be sad to see him go.

As a Nova Scotian?

It is time to turn the page. I live in hope.

We shall see.

A version of this column originally appeared in the Halifax Examiner

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