Stephen McNeil isn’t going to run in the next election, but he’s staying on as premier until the NS Liberal Party chooses his successor. He let the public know in a livecast media conference around noon today (Thursday, August 6), not long after he informed the party and attended a cabinet meeting. McNeil has served exactly 17 years as an elected official—first winning the Annapolis seat in Province House on August 5, 2003—including the last seven as premier in two Liberal majority governments, and he said “it’s long enough.”
The move comes as a surprise now. However, during his remarks and while taking questions from journalists, McNeil repeatedly said he’d made up his mind in January. He even put things in motion to exit gracefully while maintaining public support for the Liberals. The plan was to get the budget out of the way early in the year, and after people returned from “a great March Break” he would make his announcement in April. “That’s why the House was called in in January,” he chuckled at today’s press conference. “When was the last time you saw a budget introduced in January?”
But COVID-19 hit, and every plan everywhere became irrelevant. At least temporarily. McNeil said there was a point during peak outbreak when he figured he’d have to keep steering this ship of state through the next election. “I was actually preparing to go again,” he said.
Then Nova Scotia flattened the curve, making the pandemic less of a panic. We are safely past the first wave and making preparations—like requiring masks indoors—for the second wave’s expected arrival this fall. The ruling Liberals are barely three years into their mandate, so can put off an election call until spring 2022. Suddenly, McNeil realized he could step down with a clean conscience.
“This is the time now,” said McNeil. “There's enough of a window for the party to prepare for a leadership contest and a new leader.”
Until that months-long process is finished, the premier isn’t going anywhere. “I will be here to work with public health to keep Nova Scotians safe,” he said. “I love this job. I've enjoyed every day of it. And every day I'm inspired by the people of this province. But this is not a lifelong career.”