Iain Rankin Leans Left

In early February, the provincial Liberals will choose a new leader and the province’s premier.

The leadership contest rules are like those used by the Progressive Conservatives in the race won by Tim Houston. Each constituency has equal weight. Points from a constituency are allocated based on the share of vote earned by each candidate. Votes for the third-place candidate will be reallocated on the second ballot based on the voters’ second choices.

This is the first of three articles that will look at the candidates, beginning with Iain Rankin. Born in 1983, he is the youngest of the three. He was first elected in 2013 and was appointed as Minister of the Environment after the 2017 election. In July 2018, he was appointed to the renamed Department of Lands and Forestry.

After graduating from university, he worked in the private sector in other provinces and entered politics shortly after returning to Nova Scotia.

The candidates have been gradually releasing their statements on various topics. As of the beginning of 2021, Rankin has revealed the most detailed policy positions.

In lieu of federal carbon taxes, Nova Scotia has an agreement with Ottawa to phase out coal-based electric power by 2040. There was no substantial advance discussion with Nova Scotia about the possible impact of Ottawa’s recently announced increase in the carbon tax.

Rankin promises to end coal and have 80% of electricity from renewable sources by 2030. The premature retirement of coal plants will make electricity more expensive. The potential impact on the one remaining paper plant in Port Hawkesbury is worrisome.

He wants to subsidize solar energy investments in residential, commercial, and institutional buildings. The recent resource plan by Nova Scotia Power stated that in our climate, solar is not cost-effective when compared with wind.

He would likewise subsidize the cost of electric cars, buses, and charging stations. He wants ferries to gradually become electric, including a new one from Bedford to downtown Halifax.

Rankin’s main idea ostensibly about affordable housing is in fact about controlling rent increases for everyone. He proposes rent control at 4% per year for housing less than 15 years old and 10% for the rest, the thinking being that older buildings cost more for maintenance and refurbishment. This might deter needed repairs in older buildings if they would cost more than a 10% rental increase can support.

This is not just for the duration of the pandemic or for low-income households. He would maintain the limits until vacancy rates move up sufficiently from today’s low levels.

He also proposes incentives for builders to create affordable housing, and to provide financial guarantees to non-profits in the sector.

His health policies are a laundry list of conventional wisdom: encourage collaboration between the Department, the Health Authority, and Dalhousie; capital investments to facilitate better care for seniors in long term care; learning from the Covid experience; increase access to mental health services; adopt appropriate digital health technologies and extend tele-health; encourage active and healthy lifestyles through tax incentives.

Each of the candidates strives to be viewed as the most logical successor to Premier McNeil in the role of angry Dad at Covid briefings. There is no clear winner.

Rankin’s plans for economic recovery are mostly extensions of his thinking about the environment. He vows to belatedly implement the Lahey report on forestry practices, suggesting that he could not get the necessary support while he was the minister responsible for forestry. He wants government to spend more on efficiency upgrades for farms and factories. He will appoint a growth council and an advisory committee on advanced manufacturing.

Asked about rural economies, he mentions farming, fishing, and forestry and the need for innovation. He does not mention mining. Tourism is important. Noting the significant level of local support, he believes that an environmentally sensitive proposal for a golf resort at Owl’s Head could be approved.

This policy and most of the others include special reference to inclusion for underrepresented and marginalized communities.

Balanced budgets have been a signature accomplishment of the McNeil years. Rankin’s website is silent on the topic.

His proposals require a lot of extra spending but provide no indication about how to pay for them. Nevertheless, when asked, he says that budgets should be balanced, absent a recession or an emergency such as the pandemic.

Rankin has been a fast learner of the political landscape. He has worked hard on his policy positions but sometimes has not thought through their broader implications. He has had limited exposure as a cabinet minister so it is not easy to know how he performs under pressure.

His platform is tailored to appeal to the left-wing of a party that has, during McNeil’s two terms, often been to the right of the Progressive Conservatives. It will be most appealing to those who want a change of direction.


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