Politics

Nova Scotia NDP leader announces new roles for caucus

Gary Burrill still considering own plan to run for seat in legislature

Gary Burrill holds his first his first caucus meeting as new head of N.S. NDP party.
Gary Burrill holds his first caucus meeting as new head of Nova Scotia’s NDP party.   Adina Bresge

The new leader of Nova Scotia’s New Democratic Party, Gary Burrill, has assigned roles and critic portfolios to his six caucus members, but his role remains to be determined as he considers a run for a seat in the legislative assembly.

Burrill’s electoral prospects were just one of the items on the agenda at his first caucus meeting as leader Wednesday.  The former United Church minister is looking to unite his caucus, after none of its members backed him in the party’s leadership election last February.

In addition to his role as leader, Burrill will be the critic of the finance and treasury board. He will also be responsible for income inequality and advanced education – both vital components of his platform.

Lenore Zann, MLA for Truro-Bible Hill-Millbrook-Salmon River, who vied for the leadership position, will take on the role of caucus chair. She will also expand her portfolio to include aboriginal affairs and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

Dave Wilson, another competitor, will continue in his role as house leader.

After serving as interim leader for nearly three years, Maureen MacDonald was noticeably absent from the list of appointments. The party says she will not be taking any formal critic roles for the next several months.

Leading from the sidelines

Without a seat in the legislative assembly, Burrill is not entitled to a taxpayer-funded salary, nor will he have his expenses covered.

Burrill emphasized that he is an employee of the party, not the province. While NDP officials have agreed on his compensation, Burrill refuses to disclose that amount, although he did not rule out doing so in the future.

“In my years in the United Church ministry it’s never been my practice to speak about the wage package of myself or anybody on the staff of the church publicly,” he said. “I think that’s probably good practice.”

The United Heritage Church in Sydney, where Burrill was once a minister, listed one full-time employee in its 2014 tax return with the Canada Revenue Agency. The church’s total expenditure on compensation for that year was around $70,000.

According to a church employee, Burrill was on a six-month renewable contract with the church starting March 2014. The church also paid for his housing while he was in Sydney, allowing him to return to his family in Musquodoboit when he was not preaching.

Burrill has yet to announce where or when he will run for a seat in the House of Assembly.

The Liberals currently hold a 34-seat majority of Nova Scotia’s 51 electoral districts. The Progressive Conservatives have 10 seats, while the NDP trails behind with six. There is one Independent.

Stephen McNeil was elected premier in 2013, after a mass NDP exodus which saw former premier Darrell Dexter uprooted from his seat.

Personnel changes

Burrill said there would be changes within the party’s office. He announced that there would be seven people doing research and communications and outreach, which would be consolidated from two separate departments.

While some employees left the office of their own volition, Burrill was reluctant to say that anyone had been “let go.”

“It is true that some positions have been concluded since I became NDP leader,” he said. “I think it’s probably best for me not to speak publicly about personnel matters in my office.”