Three candidates are running for premier in Nova Scotia. Where do they stand?
The Signal spoke with the candidates vying to succeed Stephen McNeil as Liberal leader
February 1, 2021, 2:45 pm ASTLast Updated: February 2, 2021, 1:21 pm
Editor's Note: These interviews have been edited for length and clarity.
Voting began Monday to determine who will be the next premier of Nova Scotia. Stephen McNeil is stepping down as Liberal leader after more than seven years as premier and 17 years in politics. Three candidates are vying for the leadership.
Iain Rankin, MLA for Timberlea-Prospect, was first elected in 2013. In 2017, Rankin was appointed minister of Environment, a position he would hold for a year. During his time as minister of Environment, he commissioned a site assessment related to contaminated water in Harrietsfield. Rankin was also the first MLA to call the situation at Boat Harbour an act of “environmental racism.”
Labi Kousoulis, MLA for Halifax Citadel-Sable Island, was first elected in 2013. He was appointed minister of the Public Service Commission before a cabinet shuffle in 2017 made him minister of Labour and Advanced Education. In 2020, Kousoulis increased the minimum wage for Nova Scotians by $1. Later that year, his department announced $8 million in student loan forgiveness, helping more than 1,000 graduates chip away at accumulated student debt.
Randy Delorey, MLA for the district of Antigonish, was first elected in 2013. In 2013, Delorey passed the Importation of Hydraulic Fracturing Wastewater Prohibition Act. In 2017, he was named minister of Health and Wellness. That year, Delorey made naloxone kits for opioid overdoses free in pharmacies across the province. In 2019, Delorey announced a ban on flavoured e-juice coming into Nova Scotia.
How will you avoid a deficit?
Rankin: We will have a deficit for this year. We need to look at ways to ensure that we’re spending effectively, and my policies didn’t necessarily introduce much in the way of new spending. A lot of our deficit is proportioned from a significant loss of revenue, which will be built back as we recover. The goal is to stay out of structural deficit and have a plan to get back to [a balanced budget] without causing any undue harm to people.
Kousoulis: I’ve been an advocate that we must live within our means. That means that the province, in terms of how it’s managing its finances was within its means, which we have done. At that point, we direct our growth into helping vulnerable and low-income Nova Scotians. If you look at the last seven years, the education budget’s gone 40 per cent. If you look at my university budget, in the last seven years, it’s gone up about 30 per cent. Compare that to inflation [which] was about 10 per cent. I would work within my means but I would be ensuring that our growth every year is directed to helping vulnerable Nova Scotians.
Delorey: We’ve got a significant deficit forecasted for the current fiscal year in the vicinity of $700-800 million. In the short term, we’ll continue to make sure we make smart investments and keep our economy running. When I was finance minister, I was tackling a structural deficit. Here, we’re spending to respond to a global emergency. We’ve seen governments attempt to cut their way to tackle deficits. I think we need to make some appropriate prioritization of programs and services when the time comes, and ensure we continue to invest to meet the needs of Nova Scotians, but just in a way that we can afford.
What will you do to serve underrepresented communities as premier?
Rankin: There’s an equity component to all of my policies, [including] intentional policy on recruitment of African Nova Scotian and Mi’kmaq peoples to ensure that they have an opportunity to acquire employment and leadership positions in government, and in our institutions. Another part of our plan is to, as we rebuild our infrastructure, to use the purchasing power to create specific targets and look at specific training opportunities to those underrepresented communities.
Kousoulis: Something I’m very passionate about is being the son of two immigrants that moved to Nova Scotia coming from a minority community. This is something that’s near and dear to me. [In] my education platform, I talk about anti-racism [and] anti-bullying, but I also believe that they’re our history. I don’t want us to be talking about Mi’kmaq history and our African Nova Scotian history one month a year. It needs to be weaved into our curriculum from pre-primary right through to Grade 12. It’s part of our society and it helps us with better understanding, and with that comes a much better understanding of each other in a better society with less racism.
Delorey: I know that the ongoing work the province has done around the Home for Colored Children inquiry. We need to advance and make progress on implementing those recommendations. It’s powerful what that group did to gather the information and the recommendations to move the province. So we need to see that action. I said at the beginning of this campaign that tackling a systemic issue requires us to acknowledge the issues exist. We need to engage. But that acknowledgement of engagement is of no use if we don’t act on it.
What are your plans for funding transit?
Rankin: Transit has been a big part of my plan. It’s a step in the direction of traditional road networks, trying to increase people away from single occupancy cars, and looking at modernizing transit in communities and electrifying our buses, and there’s a specific capital commitment there that is eligible to leverage federal funding that will go towards electrification.
Kousoulis: I’m committed to a very comprehensive highway project where we’re going to twin from Yarmouth, up to CBRM. [I’ve] worked with universities that were having transportation issues. I believe that the other part of transportation is municipalities working with the provincial government to ensure that we’re moving ahead with green transportation. Right now in HRM, every route has a very large bus. I believe there’s room to look at different sized buses that have less greenhouse gases and put less carbon into the atmosphere. [I’ll] also look at electrifying the fleet and ensuring at that point, we become that much greener.
Delorey: There’s already a lot of funding available to transit. Although transit is the most visible here in the city in the urban centre of Halifax, there’s a significant expansion in Cape Breton as well that the province has supported. It’s extremely critical, particularly in some of the rural communities. In some cases of aging, many parts of the province are an aging population, [they’re] not feeling comfortable necessarily continuing to drive. You [also] have the environmental impact, multiple people traveling together instead of having their own vehicles.
Do you have any plans that support our seniors?
Rankin: There’s a number of components in my strategies that do have an impact on helping seniors, especially building a capital plan for the long-term care sector in the housing strategy. There will be opportunity to create purpose-built housing for seniors through incentives, through non-profits and the private sector. And then we’ll continue to look at other areas where we can best help seniors moving forward.
Kousoulis: Many plans. I have touched on purpose-built seniors housing. We need to provide safe and affordable housing and rent supplements for lower-income Nova Scotians. I talk about long-term care, how we’re not taking care of our most vulnerable citizens by providing them adequate living accommodations when they’re not able to care for themselves. I’ve talked about investing in seniors health and safety, and working with the federal government for national Pharmacare by supporting the implementation of our seniors action plan for the aging population. [I’m] also looking to help protect our seniors from fraudulent activities as well. You know, our seniors have given so much to the province and working for a lifetime in taxes. At some point, we’re all going to be in that situation, I want to make sure that we take care of them.
Delorey: Probably two of the biggest things would be advancing a seniors dental program, and the other would be supports for hearing aids. As well, I speak to very specific initiatives that are from a health perspective, critical, and there’s some other items in there as well. I did a review specifically geared towards seniors at least a couple of weeks ago.
How will you address housing issues across the province?
Rankin: Right now, the government has called the commission in place. There’s consultation ongoing now. I’d be interested in the feedback there and working with municipal partners, especially to trigger some of their policy levers as well looking at how we can help incentivize and increase of supply which is the main challenge we have in front of us.
Kousoulis: One of the major issues with our housing is the lack of clean, safe supply across the province. This is not a not only an HRM issue. The other issue when we talk about affordable housing, the province will probably have to look at their taxation. Currently within anyone’s rent, over a third of it is taxation. If we want to truly have affordable housing, we need to actually be able to look at our taxation and make that part of the equation to drive rents down as well. I will strike a task force to make sure that we get affordable housing built and really drive down the cost of rent.
Delorey: When we look at the housing shortages, whether they’re through rentals, or purchased houses, it’s a challenge. The current administration has already established a panel with representatives from the private sector, from the developer communities, [the municipality], as well as provincial and non-profit organizations, to discuss how we can best tackle the situation. At the end of the day, the solution is more housing. The question is how can we speed up newer housing opportunities? And it’s not just a Halifax challenge, this exists in other parts of the province, including rural Nova Scotia.
Would you implement rent control in a permanent capacity?
Rankin: That would be reviewed by that independent committee. Rent caps are part of my policy proposal during the duration of the public health emergency. We’ll be reviewing that as that emergency is lifted and looking at what is the most effective tool.
Kousoulis: I have already committed to putting a rent control in for four years, and the rent control that I chose was four per cent, which was the lowest amongst any of the candidates running. And at that point [when current rent control legislation expires], it would be reassessed, but the goal would be that we start producing a supply of housing that is affordable, that is adequate. My anticipation is at that point, once we fix that part of the equation, then we can move forward and this will not be the issue it is today.
Delorey: Rent control is currently in place as part of the pandemic response. One of the things I believe the panel meets to discuss is the appropriate approach that would be looking at what recommendations, what rent controls are part of the recommendations, are coming into that. Plus there are innovative initiatives to meet the needs for Nova Scotians to address the housing challenges.
How will you support frontline workers throughout the pandemic and afterwards?
Rankin: I think frontline workers need to be listened to, first and foremost. As part of my education and health-care plans, I’ve made a point to reference the need to have frontline workers involved in policy decision-making. The federal government has a very large role to play on how we best support those that have been impacted with specific programs. We’ll be reviewing if there’s any gaps left behind to ensure that we minimize the impact on those that are working really hard on the frontlines.
Kousoulis: One of our top opportunities is running PTSD protective coverage for frontline workers. The last sitting, I brought in legislation that means that our firefighters are getting good cancer coverage. My mental health policy is geared toward people getting through the pandemic. My health-care policy is supporting our frontline workers and making sure they have more resources, such as more nursing professionals.
Delorey: I’m the former minister of Health and Wellness. A lot of the work that I was doing through the first wave was ensuring [frontline workers] have the tools they need to deliver the care safely for themselves and patients, whether they’re in the acute hospital system in community health-care settings, or long-term care facilities. The other big thing is tackling COVID. We need to continue working with public health protocols and our vaccines rolled out.
Do you have any plans regarding the expansion of internet in rural communities?
Rankin: Yes, we’ll continue with the current strategy, and as more contracts are being rolled out, the discussion will begin. With the federal government’s announcement that they’re bringing some funding forward, we will look to leverage those funds to ensure that Nova Scotians have comparable access to what has now become a necessity.
Kousoulis: I’ve talked about infrastructure. It’s not only about internet, it’s rural cellphones and rural highways. During this campaign, we’ve had countless deaths happen on our highways which were avoidable. I talk about building safer twinned highways through the province. We want the region to thrive in Nova Scotia, but many rural areas do not have adequate internet. Without adequate internet, your house has less value. And as well, you can’t do things like start a business or operate your business. So if we want rural areas to thrive, we need to give them proper high speed internet.
Delorey: Yes, both rural internet and cellular services. Rural internet is already already underway. We set money aside to projects being led by Development Nova Scotia. By the end of ‘22, I believe about 97 to 98 per cent of the province will have broadband services of 25 to 50 megabits download at minimum. I’m the only rural candidate for this leadership race. I live with slow broadband. The best service I get is five megabits per second. But frequently, particularly if it’s raining or snowing outside, I think our broadband drops to about less than one megabit per second. I’ve got a couple of teenagers at home. My wife is a professional as well. I work from home and it’s extremely difficult and frustrating. So I understand how important broadband [is].
One in four children in Nova Scotia currently live in poverty. How will you address this crisis?
Rankin: This is an issue that will mean a number of different intentional policies, including a stronger economy, income assistance increases, more affordable child care. We’ll be looking at other strategies to ensure that we address this issue so we can start tackling this with municipalities and with non-profit groups that have specific metrics so that we can target performance indicators in the years ahead.
Kousoulis: We will fund more programs to ensure that students who might not have a healthy meal will get one at the school. That way, they have the nutrients so they can learn and help break that cycle of poverty. The student loan programs are geared directly at breaking the cycle of poverty. We have to work on our social programs. We’re missing the mark and we have to do a very thorough in-depth analysis in terms of why our other provinces have had improvements in this, and we’re essentially flatlined. You know, we’re not reinventing the wheel here. The situation is unacceptable. We have to do better.
Delorey: Part of that, I believe, is supporting people with lower incomes. One example [is] people on lower income that have lost their jobs due to COVID-19. [I’ll] support them by covering tuition so they go back to school to get training, to pursue job opportunities. We’ve also added income support for people with low income and take steps there as well to housing security. If you don’t have affordable or safe housing, that added stress impacts your health and well being, both physical and mental. We need to take some steps as a government to work with housing programs.
Would you increase minimum wage to $15?
Rankin: Minimum wage was just increased, the announcement just days ago. We’ll be continuing to look at how we best support those that are working in these sectors, while ensuring that we also consult with small businesses which are the backbone of our economy.
Kousoulis: Overtime, we will be at $15 an hour. Last year, the minimum wage increase I did was $1 and we have to balance the increases. During the pandemic, a lot of small businesses are struggling. Putting pressure on them to the point that they shut down where we start losing the chalk is not something that I want to be doing. I don’t want to do it to the point that I’m adversely affecting small businesses, to the point of that minimum wage employee, although they get a pay raise, they lose all their hours. And then the consequences are much, much worse.
Delorey: We have a panel in place that provides recommendations on minimum wage standards to move forward and move forward quite aggressively in the last couple of years based upon recommendations. It went up by $1 last year. This year it’s slated to go up another 40 cents to about $13 in April. I think that’s working in a way when we work with representatives from both the employer and employee sectors to help make recommendations and we are heading in the right direction.
Will you commit to sharing race-based data on COVID-19 with Nova Scotians?
Rankin: I think this aggregated data is important for our health, and for other aspects of society. We’ll look at how that works and work with community groups to ensure privacy is considered before releasing any information. But as a concept, aggregating data is important as we move forward.
Kousoulis: As long as people’s privacy is protected, I’ve always been open and transparent. I started the open-data portal for the government of Nova Scotia, which was a first for us, where we share data. But the key is as we’re sharing data, and especially when it comes to a subset group, you don’t want any identifiers there. So I’ve always been open and transparent and I will continue to do so and I will continue to push all of our departments to share their datasets so that we can have that out into the public domain.
Delorey: Dr. Strang has spoken on this in the past. I don’t believe that race-based data is tracked. So I don’t know that there is an ability to necessarily, specifically as it relates to COVID-19, share race-based data. However, work that I did as minister of Health and Wellness, based on engagements with Mr. Ince, the minister for African Nova Scotian Affairs, and stakeholders from the African Nova Scotian community who advocated, independent of COVID, for identification and tracking of race-based data within our health systems. It’s a project I look forward to seeing implemented.
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