Welcome To The New Premier: Iain Rankin

Dear Iain Rankin:
Congratulations. It was a long slog. Liberals who wanted to really get to know you were confined to a two-dimensional view. Now they and all Nova Scotians will want to learn more.

Plan to get a good rest over the weekend. You are going to need it.

While Stephen McNeil was Premier, things were largely determined by his preferences and any questions about them had already been asked. Many of them went unanswered.

He could get away with that, at least for a while, because of his achievements in staring down public-sector unions so that budgets could be balanced, and persuading people to stay the blazes home during the COVID pandemic. You do not own that history.

Now that you are Premier, many of those questions will be repeated. You wisely avoided criticizing McNeil during your campaign but there are things that you want to do differently. You need to establish your own persona.

  1. Health Care: After a shaky start, the health care system has performed well during the pandemic. This has largely distracted attention from continuing shortcomings.

    Wait times for many procedures are unacceptably long. Many people do not have a primary care provider. Has the bureaucracy at the top of the Nova Scotia Health Authority pushed enough decision making down to front line leaders?

    Massive new facilities are being built in Halifax and Cape Breton. Complex projects such as these have plenty of opportunity for cost overrun.
  2. Electricity: The NDP created a bad framework for Muskrat Falls power, and the McNeil government completed the misguided deal. Nova Scotians will live with the consequences for the duration, 35 years.

    The Trudeau government has announced a big jump in carbon taxes. There was no advance discussion with Nova Scotia and the other provinces that had agreed to an alternative approach to carbon reduction.

    The federal Liberals may try to take advantage of the new guy. This is complicated stuff. Be prepared and get advice from people who really understand how it works.
  3. Seniors: The pandemic has revealed shortcomings in long-term care in Nova Scotia and across Canada. Nearly three-quarters of the COVID-related deaths in Canada have been in care homes.

    Other countries make greater use of support at home while spending more per person on those in care facilities. Canada spends less than most rich countries on long-term care but 42% of people over 80 who need constant care are in institutions, compared with a rich country average of 30%.

    Just before this week’s leadership vote, a significant addition to the number of long-term care beds in Nova Scotia was announced. There will be pressure for more.

    Your party’s position has been to emphasize home care support wherever possible. That is much less expensive and is often better for the patient.

    The number of Nova Scotians over 70 will continue to grow rapidly. Mismanagement of this issue will be a budget killer.

  4. Budgets: You and your fellow candidates proposed a lot of expensive ideas during the campaign. If the party is to retain its hard-earned reputation for disciplined financial management, you must go slow on new spending ideas.

    Provincial debt has skyrocketed. Yes, interest rates are at record lows, but the principal must be repaid.
  5. Immigration: The other big success story of the McNeil government has been population growth. Until 2020, it was largely fueled by international immigration. In the past 12 months, net interprovincial migration has been an important contributor, making up for a drop in foreign immigrants.

    Halifax has not been the only beneficiary. In the 12 months ending in June 2019, seven other counties showed growth, most notably Cape Breton, which experienced a surge in international students.

    As Premier, you need to actively promote the benefits of a growing population and keep the pressure on Ottawa to ensure that we get a good share of Canada’s immigrants.
  6. Housing: The population growth has been great for the construction industry which employs a lot of people. The right way to protect renters and homebuyers is by facilitating land development. Rents and home prices will go up more quickly than inflation until vacancy rates rise. Rent controls will do more harm than good.

One of the most immediate choices facing you is choosing a cabinet. You know who the strong and weak players are. Unless you are planning a spring election, you should make the necessary changes. How key ministers perform will impact your prospects for re-election.

Neither you nor the opposition leaders are well known to Nova Scotians. You have a big advantage over them because you control the agenda. You do not want to disappoint the people who chose you.


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