McNeil steps down, eyes turn to Fraser

By Lois Ann Dort, Local Journalism Initiative reporter    
August 12 2020

GUYSBOROUGH – The Premier of Nova Scotia Stephen McNeil made a surprising announcement on Thursday, August 6 – catching everyone off-guard by declaring he would step down from politics. McNeil has served as MLA for the riding of Annapolis since 2003 and as premier of the province since 2013. Over his years as premier he’s taken on unions and fulfilled a long-standing promise to close the Boat Harbour effluent treatment facility. These and other tough decisions leave a somewhat contentious legacy, but McNeil also garners respect from many – inside and outside of his party -- for matching his actions to his words.

“Yesterday, I celebrated my 17th year in elected office,” the premier said in making his announcement. “These past seven years, as your premier, have been the most rewarding of my professional career. It has been a privilege and an honour, and something I have never taken for granted.”

That being said, McNeil will likely continue to lead the province into 2021, as it will take months to plan and hold a leadership campaign.

“I am also grateful to Nova Scotians who have worked with us to get our province heading in the right direction,” he said. “Our population is growing with our immigration success, our businesses and citizens are gaining more confidence as we compete on the world stage and we are giving our young people the foundation they need with programs like pre-primary. We have also worked hard to break down systemic racism in our province. There is more work to do, but I am proud that more Nova Scotians are starting to see themselves reflected in our institutions.

“I want to thank Nova Scotians for giving me the opportunity to be your premier. We have accomplished so much together. I may not have always gotten it right. But here's what I know for sure: we are better together and being kind matters,” said McNeil as he concluded his remarks.

As soon as the cards were on table, speculation started brewing as to who would fill McNeil’s shoes. One of the first names that popped up was not a provincial politician but a federal Liberal MP whose star has risen rapidly over the past two federal elections: Central Nova MP Sean Fraser, who serves as Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Finance and to the Minister of Middle Class Prosperity and Associate Minister of Finance.

When asked for comment on the news of McNeil’s announcement and the speculation that he might be a contender in the provincial Liberal leadership race, Fraser released the following statement: “Thank you to Premier McNeil for 17 years of public service. I know first-hand the impact that holding public office can have on those who put their name on the ballot, as well as their families. I have worked closely with the Premier on a number of transformative projects for our community, including the remediation of Boat Harbour and the twinning of Highway 104, to name just a couple examples.

“I have received a significant number of messages and calls regarding the Premier’s announcement yesterday and whether I have interest in seeking that Office. I was initially motivated to enter politics by a desire to serve the public interest on matters of social, economic, and environmental importance. Serving as Premier unquestionably provides a platform to advance those interests,” said Fraser.

But Fraser said he hasn’t yet made a final decision on the run for leadership provincially. “However, I also deeply value my current role as the Member of Parliament for Central Nova and Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Finance, which has allowed me to help shape the federal economic response to the COVID-19 pandemic and make a serious difference for the people and communities I represent, and Canadians more broadly.

“I will give consideration as to whether the opportunity to serve as the Premier of Nova Scotia makes sense for me and for our province.”

As an MP who just turned 36 this summer and has a young family, Fraser has lots of time to make his mark in politics. He concluded his statement by saying, “These are big decisions that have an impact not only on those who seek public office, but also their loved ones. I will take the time necessary to make an informed choice about the next step in my career in politics here at home in Nova Scotia.”

The months ahead will tell who the next person will be to sit in the premier’s seat, but if it does happen to be Sean Fraser, he won’t have to adjust the chair’s ergonomic settings much – both he and McNeil are approximately two metres tall.