Don’t worry. You don’t have to choose. Liberal delegates will pick your next premier for you. All you have to do is live with him… for a while.
Welcome to 2021! In addition to figuring out the appropriate trash folder into which to dump all of 2020 (along with last week’s plethora of pleading emails — Last chance to take advantage of 2020 savings… Last chance in 2020 to donate to this worthy cause… First chance to take advantage of 2021 savings… First chance in 2021 to donate to that worthy cause…), I guess it is finally, reluctantly, time to pay attention to that other matter of moment.
Which is… Which white he — and he will definitely be a white he — should be our next premier? Randy Delorey? Labi Kousoulis? Iain Rankin?
I have no obvious, jump-out-of-the-computer-screen answer to that question, but don’t worry. No one who matters cares what I think. Or, for that matter, what you think. Not yet. Not until the next election.
On Feb. 6, 2021, someone somewhere in the ether will announce — cue the pre-recorded applause, the digitized balloon droppings — the name of the next leader of the Liberal Party of Nova Scotia, as chosen by however many registered delegates cast ballots in the party’s online leadership convention.
The winner will, whether we like it or not, automatically also become the next premier of Nova Scotia.
For how long? In the short term, it most likely depends primarily on the results of the new leader’s first toe-dipping round of public opinion polling. Unlike every other jurisdiction in this country — federal and provincial — Nova Scotia does not have a fixed election-date law. (This, like the fact ours is the only legislature in Canada that didn’t sit during the pandemic, is a distinction we could do without.) But what it means is that our new premier gets to set an election date to his liking any time before May 30, 2022, which is the fifth anniversary of the last time we had the chance to make a choice.
Interestingly, Newfoundland and Labrador does have a law on its books that requires the province to hold a new election within a year of any new premier being sworn in. But, unfortunately, in this case, we are not Newfoundland and Labrador.
So, we will be stuck, for the moment, with one of the Three Bland Men.
Which should it be?
Let us consider.
Randy Delorey, 42, a former business management professor at St. Francis Xavier University, has served in key posts in Stephen McNeil’s cabinet since he was first elected as MLA for Antigonish in 2013. He’s been environment minister, finance minister and health minister.
Unfortunately for him — and for his rivals — Stephen McNeil has always been the real minister of all he surveys, leaving little room for anyone else to make their mark.
So, what has Delorey actually accomplished?
According to his Wikipedia entry, when he was environment minister in 2014, Delorey approved the Goldboro Liquefied Natural Gas project, “which will turn Goldboro into the ‘energy hub’ of Nova Scotia by 2018.” Uh… not so fast. According to an October 2020 CBC News report, that project is still unapproved and still under fire from environmentalists who argue that, if it goes ahead, “Nova Scotia’s greenhouse gas emission targets would be gone out the window.”
Minister of whose environment?
As health minister, Delorey has tried to lay ex-post-facto claim to at least some of the credit for Nova Scotia’s successful COVID-19 response, but there is little public evidence to suggest he did much more than carry the masks for Premier Stephen McNeil and Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Robert Strang.
And, as finance minister… well, Delorey really wasn’t. Stephen McNeil was.
All of which should have created an opening for Delorey to finally establish himself as his own person with his own fresh policy ideas by the time he became the last Liberal to join the leadership race on Oct. 9. Instead, while proclaiming that “this campaign is all about leadership,” Delorey quickly announced plans for lead-from-behind province-wide “listening sessions” so he could hear “what matters to you.”
He apparently didn’t hear much that mattered to him because he hasn’t offered much by way of a platform, or much in what he has suggested that is new except that he is a “proven leader.”
Labi Kousoulis, 49, the son of Greek immigrants whose first job was washing dishes at his family’s restaurant in the Acadian bus terminal in Halifax, was an accountant and small business owner before he was elected to the legislature in 2013. Like Delorey, he spent the last seven years in the shadows in McNeil-centric cabinets, most recently as the minister of labour and advanced education.
Unlike Delorey, Kousoulis’s website includes detailed policy positions on 11 different issues from agriculture (create a “farmland trust” to protect farming resources and preserve “important farmland for generations”), to small business (invest $60 million to reduce the property tax burden for small businesses suffering because of COVID-19), to Cape Breton (establish a fully staffed and resourced Immigrant Settlement Association office in Cape Breton to attract and support new international students and residents).
That said, Kousoulis also displays the usual annoying, standard-issue all-things-to-all-people Liberal doublespeak, promising to “twin our highways” from Yarmouth to Sydney while pledging at the same time to become “more environmentally friendly and move toward decarbonization.”
Iain Rankin, 37, has the most eclectic background — a golf club management diploma from Holland College coupled with what Wikipedia describes as a master of arts in international politics “organized by the Centre Européen Recherches Internationales Stratégiques (CERIS) in partnership with the College d’Etudes Interdisciplinaires of the Université Paris,” whatever that means.
After working his way around the country — Jasper and Ottawa — Rankin’s campaign bio says he decided to answer the call to return home to “dedicate himself to building a better Nova Scotia, and to make a positive difference for those who felt unheard or left behind.”
Like Delorey and Kousoulis, Rankin is part of the Liberal class of 2013, but didn’t join the cabinet until after the 2017 election when McNeil named him to the often in-conflict double portfolios of environment and lands and forestry.
Rankin’s “vision” is significantly more detailed than Delorey’s but less comprehensive than Kousoulis’s. Most significantly, his platform seems to skew more progressive than either of his rivals.
When it comes to social and racial justice, for example, Rankin acknowledges “we must confront our past and learn from our mistakes, in particular those that continue to harm and hold back African Nova Scotians and Mi’kmaq Peoples. We must include marginalized groups in all of government’s decision-making, with honest deference to their lived experience — and then we must act.”
When it comes to the environment, Rankin says flatly, “the climate crisis is here,” and he calls for the province to wean itself off coal ahead of schedule while investing in green technology to give the province “an economic and environmental competitive advantage.”
As promising as all that seems, there is also this. During his tenure as minister of lands and forestry, Rankin failed to implement important reforms called for in the August 2018 Lahey Report. That much-praised report argued Nova Scotia should adopt a “triad model” of ecological forestry and drastically reduce clear-cutting.
At the time, the government officially accepted all 45 recommendations but, two years later, critics claim “the department’s fundamental underpinnings, legislative-wise, direct them to stay on the 1980s industrial over-harvesting focus instead of the new ecosystem focus as recommended.”
Rankin himself promised to release a new forestry guide before the end of 2019, but he didn’t deliver.
Whose fault is that? Some have pinned the blame on recalcitrant bureaucrats within the department for holding up change. But, of course, Rankin was the boss and therefore responsible for overcoming such obstacles.
While he was the minister, Rankin had little to say about the delays. But last month, as a leadership candidate, he publicly claimed the reforms had been ready to be implemented earlier this year, and that he would move ahead with making them reality if he becomes premier.
Does that mean Stephen McNeil said no?
Probably, though Rankin didn’t explicitly say so. But his own failure to get things done raises questions about Rankin’s powers of persuasion, his leadership and his ability to take charge if given the opportunity.
If I was a Liberal, which I’m not, and had to choose, which I don’t, I’d vote for Rankin. But more because of the views he claims to have than for anything he’s actually done.
Welcome to 2021.
A version of this column originally appeared in the Halifax Examiner.
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