In order to propel the Nova Scotia NDP forward, leader Gary Burrill says it’s time to make way for someone new to take the helm. “I’m going to be stepping down from leader of the party in order for us to have the opportunity to renew ourselves before the next election,” Burrill told reporters at Province House Tuesday afternoon.
The Halifax Chebucto MLA says he will stay on as leader for up to a year while the party decides on his successor. “None of this” announcement will impact his MLA status, he said, and he didn’t rule out the possibility of running in a future election. The former United Church minister became leader in 2016, and was first elected to the Legislative Assembly in 2009.
Burrill says he’s taking a back seat at a time when the New Democratic Party is especially strong. “We are strong in our caucus in many, many ways,” he said. “Particularly from the point of view of gender and diversity.”
He highlighted the party’s “very, very strong performance” during the fall sitting, which wrapped last week. He highlighted this fall’s rent cap extension and progress towards an environmental racism commission as recent achievements for the NDP.
“To my judgement, this is the right moment to renew ourselves in leadership so as to go towards the next election on the basis of these strengths,” Burrill said. “This is a moment when we’re propelling ourselves forward.”
When asked how he’s feeling on the day of this announcement, Burrill joked that it isn’t easy for him to get at emotions.
“Look, my father’s people are Presbytarian and my mother’s people are Baptist, so we’re not very good at talking about our emotions,” he said with a laugh. “But I am utterly clear within myself that the step we’re taking today is the right step.”
The decision to step back was very personal, he said, and was something he came to with no pressure from members of the NDP team or elsewhere. He says contemplating the right time to step back and make way for new leadership is something he thinks about “all the time,” and that time is now. With more than three and a half years until the next provincial election, Burrill expects this will give the party ample time for a new leader to be brought on and get established before a vote.
In the August election, Burrill and five other NDP MLAs won seats across Nova Scotia. Under his leadership in 2017 the party took seven ridings, just as they had on election night in 2013. Burrill represented Colchester-Musquodoboit Valley for the NDP from 2009 to 2013. Following his party leadership win he was elected as MLA for Halifax Chebucto in 2017 and again in 2021.
The next NDP leader will embody “the party the values of equity, environmental sustainability, racial equality and equity,” Burill said. The party has 12 months to select a new leader.
While the next party leader doesn’t necessarily have to be an elected NDP member—Burrill himself wasn’t yet elected when he won in 2016—the party has three experienced MLAs who deserve a place on anyone’s longlist of candidates: Dartmouth South’s Claudia Chender, Dartmouth North’s Susan Leblanc and Cape Breton Centre’s Kendra Coombes.
Premier Tim Houston thanked Burrill for his work for Nova Scotians. "While we have not always agreed on policy, he has always wanted to make life better for Nova Scotians, and for that I thank him,” Houston said in a statement.
Former premier and current Liberal leader Iain Rankin said Burrill will be missed for his “genuine advocacy and consideration on issues of inequality.” In his statement, Rankin drew attention to Burrill’s ability to make impassioned speeches before a rapt audience, a political skill doubtless rooted in delivering sermons in church:“Few can match his adept oratory that draws in respect from his colleagues on all sides of the legislature.”