Politicos across Canada were thrown for a spin on August 13th when MLA (Member of the Legislative Assembly) Stephen McNeil suddenly announced his resignation as premier of Nova Scotia.
- McNeil has served as premier since his Liberal Party won a majority of seats against the highly unpopular New Democratic Dexter government in 2013.
- His tenure has been highly polarizing. Despite several high-profile showdowns with public-sector unions, such as teachers and nurses, McNeil was re-elected with a small but healthy majority in a divisive election for workers in 2017.
- McNeil stated in his resignation that he felt “it is time for someone new,” but his decision took even his caucus by surprise. He will stay on as a lame-duck until his successor is replaced at a (potentially virtual) leadership convention, date to be decided.
Looking Ahead: There are many qualified candidates to run in the upcoming contest that will choose not only a new Liberal leader for Nova Scotia, but also a new premier.
I believe Kelly Regan, MLA for Bedford, is best poised to unite the province in the time of a global pandemic, a feminist reckoning, and an uncertain economic future.
Preserving a Province Through Pandemic and Paranoia
Nova Scotians have spent the majority of 2020 living in a state of heightened anxiety surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic. The global outbreak of the respiratory disease has resulted in over 1000 confirmed cases and 64 deaths in the province as of August 13, with most cases centered in the Halifax Regional Municipality.
- The McNeil government collaborated with other provinces to create an “Atlantic bubble” on July 3rd.
Under a mandatory mask order, Education Minister Zach Churchill has promised $40 million to reopen public schools in September. However, this decision is controversial particularly among the province’s teachers.
- They worry about the province hiring unqualified staff and risking the quality of education.
Additionally, the province was left deeply shaken by the worst mass shooting in Canadian history. On April 18th -19th 2020, a gunman murdered 22 people, injured three others, and committed arson at 16 locations across the province starting in Portapique before being killed by RCMP in Enfield.
- During the 13-hour crime spree, the gunman used a replica RCMP vehicle to disguise himself. The RCMP has since been widely criticized for not using the text-system Alert Ready to warn the public.
- Trudeau’s cabinet recently announced a public inquiry after widespread protests throughout Nova Scotia demanding a stronger response to the shootings.
Moreover, stable leadership will be a priority going in and coming out of this race for both the party and Nova Scotia as a whole. Kelly Regan is anything but a career politician, but that doesn’t mean she doesn’t also bring years of elected experience to the table.
- Regan boasts an extensive background in media as an award-winning director and writer.
- She has filled various cabinet positions, mirroring provincially what her husband Geoff Regan has done federally as MP for Halifax West.
Regan’s ongoing work with women’s and youth organizations may demonstrate her ability to breathe new life into the Nova Scotia Liberals – a party that hews closer ideologically to the B.C. Liberals than it does to the “sunny ways” of Justin Trudeau.
A More Progressive Liberal Party?
The Nova Scotia Liberal Party has long been one of the more centrist governing parties in Canada.
McNeil, a self-described fiscal conservative, moved the party to the right when he took over from Francis Mackenzie in 2007. NDP leader Gary Burrill has strongly criticized the Liberal fixation on balanced budgets as coming “at a heavy cost to the majority of Nova Scotians,” in particular labour.
“I sincerely hope that the Liberal Party of Nova Scotia will take this opportunity to alter their course and elect someone with more progressive views, and someone who is interested in working collaboratively with others,” Jason MacLean, president of the Nova Scotia Government and General Employees Union, stated in wake of McNeil’s resignation.
Unfortunately for labour activists, the province remains disenchanted with the thought of another NDP government after the Dexter government’s collapse. The latest provincial poll, taken in early June, showed the Liberals at 42 points, with the PCs just behind at 31 points, and the NDP a distant third.
- 82% of Nova Scotians believe the McNeil government has done a “good job” in handling COVID-19.
- Whoever ends up leading the Liberals will lead the province in an unparalleled period of economic instability for working people.
Any economic recovery plan demands enormous community investments from the provincial government to protect vulnerable populations.
- NDP education critic Claudia Chender pointed out how over half of the province can and has been left behind by the governments’ desire to stabilize the economy.
“We have to explicitly take women into account…if we don’t, we are going to lose thousands of women from the workforce and potentially permanently,” she told Global News.
COVID-19 has made certain that 2020 will be a year of few elections, meaning the installment of a new premier will draw plenty of attention from national media.
Electing Regan could move the party towards more worker-friendly policies than the hardline tactics of Premier McNeil.
Leading by Example
Elections Nova Scotia reported in 2017 that the population of women aged 18 and older in the province was higher than men, at 50.9% to 46.5%.
- Despite this, the province is one of just four that has never had a female premier, despite producing past icons like New Democrats Alexa McDonough and Megan Leslie.
- Beliefs about voting tendencies by gender are squashed as Jaime Baillie’s Progressive Conservatives consistently polled ahead of the McNeil Liberals with women during the 2017 election.
Women in politics face countless systemic challenges, as well as real and tangible dangers to their safety.
- Federal Infrastructure Minister Catherine McKenna’s situation reflects the violence that women in politics are sometimes confronted with, as her family, staff, and office are under constant threat.
Nova Scotia’s rates of domestic violence are staggering, with 78% of the victims being women. The violence on display last April added to the personal pain many families across the province continue to feel in the aftermath of the shooting.
- The gunman was cited as being misogynistic and had “a reputation for being violent and intimidating.” He had been witnessed assaulting his partner in public several times, but she later stated she was too afraid to come forward to police.
Sexual violence and the “Me Too” social movement are at the top of mind for many voters going into the new decade. Regan has filled the position of Minister responsible for the Advisory Council on the Status of Women since 2013.
- The council was established in 1977 and is composed of citizen leaders who advise the minister on priorities like gender-based violence, female economic security, and women in leadership.
- The office also leads “Standing Together,” the province’s coordinated approach to preventing domestic violence that has deep connections with community women’s organizations.
It is more important than ever, as we enter this dark economic future, to have a premier who understands the importance of female political participation and access all across Nova Scotia.
Regan’s experience means she won’t be making campaign pledges to win votes – she would actually follow through and prioritize specific institutional reforms.
The Bottom Line
Kelly Regan has the potential to enter the Liberal leadership with a background that makes her the most qualified candidate:
She has won re-election without much contest in her riding of Bedford since 2009 – a riding that former Liberal leader MacKenzie lost in just 2006.
While there are great up-and-comers in the Liberal Party, it is not time to take a risk on an untested face.
- Regan’s many ministerial positions in labour, services, women, and youth provide her with an eagle eye for the needs of working people across the province.
- This community background means participatory democracy is a priority for Regan – a sharp contrast to the anger so many leftists felt towards the iron fist-governance style of Premier McNeil.
The choice is, at the end, always hers to make. A politician should never be judged for staying out of a leadership race, and it’s even more difficult to leap in knowing the risks any woman would face serving as the first female premier. However, I believe there’s a clear choice on how to do just that.
Nova Scotians can have a trusted and tested premier who can move us forward on the key issues where we’re lacking: community-based economic opportunity, moving the Liberal Party left, and a brighter future for women and marginalized groups.
That premier is Kelly Regan.
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