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JIM VIBERT: N.S. Liberal leadership contenders walk a fine line

The three candidates vying to become the next leader of the Nova Scotia Liberal Party are, from left, Randy Delorey, Labi Kousoulis and Iain Rankin. - The Chronicle Herald / File
The three candidates vying to become the next leader of the Nova Scotia Liberal Party are, from left, Randy Delorey, Labi Kousoulis and Iain Rankin. - The Chronicle Herald / File

The three Liberals running to succeed Premier Stephen McNeil are, mostly, walking a pretty fine line.

On one hand they want Liberals, in particular, to know that, as leader and premier, they’d hold fast to the overall direction set by McNeil’s government, which they all served as cabinet ministers until they entered the Liberal leadership race almost two months ago.

On the other hand, two of the three want to showcase new ideas and prove they have some policy chops. That means floating solutions to problems that beset the province – problems that the McNeil government hasn’t adequately addressed.

That’s a hard needle to thread, and the two candidates who are trying to accomplish it – Iain Rankin and Labi Kousoulis – broke with the government’s slow-to-no-response to the growing affordable housing, evictions and homelessness crisis in Nova Scotia.

The third contender, Randy Delorey, whose campaign is still almost exclusively about listening to Liberals, toes the government line on the housing crisis as he does on every issue.

Both Rankin and Kousoulis favour some form of cap on rent increases to protect tenants from the inordinate hikes that many, particularly in the Halifax area, have been hit with recently.

Rankin would also immediately restore the moratorium on evictions that was in place in the spring, during the first wave of COVID-19 to sweep the province.

Like the McNeil government, Delorey rejects all forms of rent control, claiming that they are counterproductive because they dampen new housing construction when the root problem is a shortage of housing stock.

The issue is a fair barometer of each candidate’s comfort in creating some distance from the government.

Delorey has emerged as the candidate of continuity. He emphasizes the senior cabinet posts he held in McNeil’s government and the pride he has in its accomplishments. He’ll differ from McNeil in style not substance, and his listening tour of provincial Liberals is designed to underscore that difference.

If there’s a candidate of change in this race – and that’s an unresolved question – it is Rankin. He talks more about the environment than his opponents and says that the post-COVID recovery should be about building a low-carbon, sustainable and inclusive economy.

Kousoulis falls somewhere between the other two. He’s rolling out a platform that, so far, includes planks on education, health, support for small business, and housing but, with the exception of his proposed rent cap, he’s advocating incremental improvements on existing government policy and programs, rather than sweeping change.


Randy Delorey, Labi Kousoulis and Iain Rankin make their pitches to be the next Liberal leader and premier of Nova Scotia at a candidates debate at Pier 21 in Halifax on Thursday, Nov. 19. Halifax Chamber of Commerce - Contributed
Randy Delorey, Labi Kousoulis and Iain Rankin make their pitches to be the next Liberal leader and premier of Nova Scotia at a candidates debate at Pier 21 in Halifax on Thursday, Nov. 19. Halifax Chamber of Commerce - Contributed

 


Last week, the Halifax Chamber of Commerce provided the first opportunity to see and hear the three candidates together, and as Francis Campbell reported here, it was a decidedly low-key affair, reflecting the fact that the three men agree much more than they disagree.

And, while it’s not their fault, all three suffer from the same, too-narrow political perspective.

That shouldn’t come as a big surprise given that all three have only sat on the government side of the legislature, so they all bring that singular perspective to critical questions about the way the government operates or should operate.

For example, when asked about the lack of transparency that’s become a constant criticism of McNeil’s government, they’re responses reflected the rarified air that ministers breathe.

They spoke of being accessible to the press and to stakeholders, but seemed oblivious to the real problem, which is that the current government tells Nova Scotians what it wants them to know, when it wants them to know it.

Access to ministers, or premiers, prepped with talking points designed to obfuscate rather than illuminate won’t improve government transparency, but a working Freedom of Information law might help.

Likewise, when asked about McNeil’s failure to call a fall session of the legislature, only Rankin allowed that if he were premier, the house would be sitting this fall.

But for the most part, the candidates talked about the legislature as if it were merely a means to the government’s ends. From the government perspective, the legislature’s purpose is to advance the government’s legislative agenda.

None of them seems to understand – or, or if they do, none bothered to mention – that the legislature’s role in holding the government accountable is at least on equal footing with its role passing legislation.

Of course, all three contenders learned what they know about government and the legislature under the tutelage of McNeil, so his views have become their views.

The Liberals pick their new leader Feb. 6 and he will become the province’s 29th premier shortly thereafter.

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