Kousoulis Has Something For Everyone

When asked about Stephen McNeil’s strengths, the three candidates competing to replace him provide remarkably similar answers: good values and the political courage to make decisions based on them. On the other hand, none of them enthuses about the absence of transparency.

In the Covid era, it is difficult for the candidates to make contact with the membership. Zoom is helpful but it’s not like being in the same room. With less than four weeks to go before voting begins, the candidates will be using all available technologies to get their message out.

Our second article focuses on Labi Kousoulis, who is about 50. He grew up in Halifax and graduated from Saint Mary’s University. He is a Certified Professional Accountant.

He grew up working in family businesses. After university, he worked at Scotiabank, Wilsons Fuels, and Trenton Works. He is proud of his community service contribution, noting especially his chairing of the Halifax Greek Fest where he was able to end a string of money-losing years. He feels this was his best leadership experience prior to politics.

He was elected in 2013 and was part of McNeil’s first cabinet. Most recently, he has been Minister of Labour and Advanced Education.

He sees himself as an agent of change. When in charge of the civil service, he reoriented hiring policies to attract younger Nova Scotians. He saved money by consolidating hospital procurement, coincident with the consolidation of health authorities.

His campaign appears to have studied the success of Conservative leader Erin O’Toole, who spent a lot of time talking to members in Quebec, where the Conservatives are weak. A section of his platform focused just on that province.

The provincial Liberals have only two seats in Cape Breton. Kousoulis spent a week there before visiting became impossible because of the pandemic. Cape Breton has its own section in his platform.

He promises to have a second premier’s office there, to have Immigrant Services Association of Nova Scotia (ISANS) establish a presence there so that more immigrants will choose Cape Breton, and to offer various subsidies for small businesses and start-ups.

He wants to build a winter tourism business and points to Cape Smokey as a shining example.

Like Iain Rankin, his affordable housing platform includes a rent control policy that will discourage builders, both for new and rehabilitation investments. He proposes to cap rent increases at 4% for at least four years.

He will subsidize purpose-built seniors’ housing and co-ops, invest in shelters, and work with non-profits building affordable housing.

He proposes to subsidize tourism marketing and to invest in tourism infrastructure. He believes the Owl’s Head golf resort proposal should proceed if suitable environmental protections are implemented.

He would extend virtual care and telehealth until at least the end of 2021 while the results of the model are studied. He will spend $10 million annually to expand 811 services and subsidize the cost of nursing professionals working in tandem with physicians’ practices.

He would work with the federal government to implement a national pharmacare program. Curiously, this is for everyone but is only mentioned in his platform for seniors, the age group that already has a provincial program supporting drug costs.

He wants to free up hospital beds by building and staffing more long term care facilities. It is not clear whether this is a change from the present policy of favouring home care wherever possible.

Kousoulis promises to extend pre-primary schooling or provide private care post-school to help working parents manage. He wants more outdoor education, more on respecting Mi’kmaq and Indigenous rights, anti-racism, and bullying prevention. There is no indication of what would be reduced to make room for these additions.

He will invest resource royalties ($16 million a year) in a green fund. There are investments in agricultural land improvement and infrastructure, small business tax abatements, and most notably twinning the highway from Yarmouth to CBRM, starting with the extension of Highway 103 to Bridgewater.

Of the three candidates, Kousoulis is easily the most qualified to understand fiscal issues. He could and should have shown it in his platform.

His website says nothing about budgets. When asked about fiscal balance, Kousoulis argues that balanced books are achievable, proudly pointing out that there was no structural deficit prior to Covid.

Fair enough, but the economy has shrunk and the province has added a lot of debt that will increase borrowing costs. Add to this his list of spending promises and it will take more than economic growth to balance the books.

Provincial leadership campaigns do not have the robust staffing needed to do credible financial projections. But it would be nice to see directional acknowledgement that promises have to be paid for.

His speaking style is direct but not engaging. His platform is to the left of McNeil but not as far as Rankin.

As party members compare the candidates, they might conclude that Kousoulis is a safe pair of hands, but doubt his ability to inspire the electorate.


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