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Liberal leadership candidates to square off in Cape Breton

Nova Scotia Liberal Party leadership candidate Iain Rankin has deep roots in Cape Breton. CONTRIBUTED
Nova Scotia Liberal Party leadership candidate Iain Rankin has deep roots in Cape Breton. CONTRIBUTED
SYDNEY, N.S. —

There’s a one-in-three chance that Nova Scotia will once again be led by a premier with a passion and penchant for Gaelic music.

Eleven years after renowned fiddler and Inverness native Rodney MacDonald served as premier, another politician with deep Cape Breton musical roots is campaigning for the province’s top job.

Iain Rankin, whose hobbies include playing the bagpipes, is the youngest of the three candidates vying to replace Stephen McNeil as both the leader of the provincial Liberal party and, by default, as the next premier of Nova Scotia.

And the 37-year-old Rankin makes no apologies for playing the age card in the race that will be decided when the party’s leadership vote takes place on Feb. 6, exactly six months after McNeil announced he will be stepping down as leader and premier.

The Cape Breton Post spoke with Rankin by telephone from his in-laws’ Antigonish home following a weekend visit to Cape Breton that included talks with local supporters and business leaders.

“I think it’s time for the next generation,” said Rankin, who was first elected to the legislature as the MLA for the Halifax-area district of Timberlea-Prospect in the 2013 provincial election.

“We as a government have made progress in the last seven years, but I see this as our moment for Nova Scotia to break through in the 2020s and grow back a strong economy through the pandemic, and I have specific ways of getting there. My business background, experience in cabinet and my youth and enthusiasm probably put me in the best place to do so.”

Rankin will take part in a candidates debate later this week in Sydney along with fellow MLAs, former cabinet ministers and leadership candidates Labi Kousoulis and Randy Delorey. The forum is scheduled for 7 p.m. on Thursday at the Joan Harriss Cruise Pavilion.

HOME OF HIS HEART

Rankin might just have home-field advantage for the debate in that his family has deep roots in Cape Breton. He was born in Inverness and spent the first couple of years of his life in Mabou before moving to the Halifax area.

“Cape Breton is where my heart is and the culture and heritage are very special to me,” said Rankin, who has 47 first cousins, most of them still residing on the west side of the island.

“And I think we can capitalize on those strengths. Economically, I think it is key to the vitality of communities across the northern and eastern areas of the province, especially with the CBRM being the second-largest urban community in the province and I think driving economic growth is going to be a big part of the success of Nova Scotia.”

Earlier this month, the bilingual Rankin, who also knows some basic Gaelic, unveiled his seven-point economic recovery plan. The blueprint that includes investment in communities and an increase in support for innovators also calls for the creation of an economic growth council that would focus on attracting and retaining venture capital and ensure that the regulatory framework supports such growth.

“There would be strong membership, including one or two business leaders from Cape Breton, on that council and they would be looking into bringing direct investment into Cape Breton and attracting new businesses and looking at the investment readiness that we have in Cape Breton,” said Rankin.

CLIMATE CHANGE

Another key focal point of the former lands and forestry minister (he resigned the post to run for the party leadership) is climate change. And he said his vision for climate action is in line with that of new Cape Breton Regional Municipality Mayor Amanda McDougall.

“We have mutual interests in a number of areas, including environmental, so I think we have things we can move forward together on such as extended producer responsibility — I think the renewable energy shift will benefit municipalities as it provides new revenue streams through things like the wind tax,” he said.

“Nova Scotia can be a leader in how we move toward a more low-carbon and socially inclusive economy. I truly believe we are on the cusp of something special here and that if we can seize that moment, if I am fortunate enough to be leading the government in the spring, I think we’ll see a shift toward a more sustainable future for the province.”

EQUALIZATION

The Post also asked Rankin for his views on the contentious issue of federal equalization payments and whether he thinks Cape Breton is getting its fair share of the $2.1-billion transfer that Nova Scotia annually receives from Ottawa.

“I don’t think it’s appropriate to choose an arbitrary number or increase,” he said.

“I think what is reasonable is the government taking a look across the board not only with Cape Breton, but at how all municipalities levy their taxes and what services they are paying for, and I would commit to a review, a comprehensive one, to look at how taxes are levied at the municipal level and the provincial level and who’s paying for what service.

“I also think that Cape Breton, and the CBRM specifically, deserves more autonomy whether that be through a new governance charter for the municipality or enabling more ability to shape the future.”

THE FUTURE

Once the new Liberal party leader is elected he will become premier and with that comes the responsibility of deciding when the next provincial election will take place. However, Rankin said it’s too early to suggest a voting date.

“Right now I am just focusing on the campaign — there is a time limit on when an election must be held, but right now this campaign is my focus,” he said.

So far, a number of prominent Nova Scotia Liberals have publicly thrown their support behind Rankin. The list includes cabinet ministers Derek Mombourquette, Chuck Porter and Zach Churchill.

The election of the new leader/premier will bring an end to McNeil’s seven-year stint as premier and 13-year run as the leader of the Nova Scotia Liberal Party.

David Jala is a political reporter at the Cape Breton Post. 

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