New Liberal leader and soon to be premier Iain Rankin addresses an almost empty convention centre Saturday night. Beside him, his wife Mary.

My colleague, Jennifer Henderson, summed it up best. “This was perhaps the dullest political leadership convention in Nova Scotia history,” she wrote. “I’ve been to wakes that were more fun.”

My wife and I chose to have dinner at a pub instead. All the screens in the pub showed sporting events. No one seemed to notice the absence of a feed from the Nova Scotia Liberal leadership convention. I checked my phone only occasionally.

And yet the changing of the Liberal guard was — and will be — consequential for all of us.

The winner, of course, automatically becomes the premier of all he surveys — at least until he chooses to let us have our own say on the matter.

For now, we’re in the middle of a pandemic that — absent enough doses to vaccinate all of us — will continue to require strong political leadership and a willing public will to keep it at bay until…

After that worst has passed, of course, there will be a new and worse worst: a post-pandemic hangover deficit pushing half a billion dollars, coupled with a battered economy that will need time and patience to recover.

But looming realities — the onrushing climate crisis, the legacy of systemic racism — will leave little possibility for patience.

Welcome, Iain Rankin, to the main event.

Rankin, who will become Nova Scotia’s 29th premier, won the Liberal party leadership on the second ballot Saturday. It was no landslide. He captured just 52.4 per cent of the total weighted vote from the roughly 8,000 Liberal delegates. Second-place finisher Labi Kousoulis finished with 47.59 per cent. Former Health Minister Randy Delorey came last on the first ballot and was eliminated.

When Rankin is sworn in in the next few weeks, he will become the third-youngest premier in the province’s history.

In case you’re wondering, the youngest was Nova Scotia’s long-forgotten sixth premier, William Thomas Pipes. He was just 32 when chosen by his caucus after the Liberals — then without a leader — unexpectedly won the 1882 election. He served, according to Wikipedia, for just one year and 347 days before resigning the then-unpaid position.

The second youngest was Rodney MacDonald, who served as premier from 2006-09. How soon we forget to remember those milestones. MacDonald was 34 when he won the Conservative leadership after John Hamm resigned. Always a better fiddle player than a politician, MacDonald managed to fritter away political power in just three years… Gone, and also forgotten.

All by way of saying that being young is no guarantee of political success.

But, in this case, it is not unimportant. “This is about the next generation and what people want to see next,” Rankin said often during the campaign.

What Nova Scotians want to see next, Rankin suggested, is a government that will be proactively pro-environment. He championed policies to push the province off coal and into renewables by 2030, invest in green infrastructure, electrify local transit, goose the development of active transportation corridors, reintroduce an “improved” Biodiversity Act and implement the Lahey Report on forestry before the end of 2021.

(Interestingly, Rankin, as the minister of lands and forestry, did not manage to either implement the 2018 Lahey report, which called for more sustainable harvesting practices, or shepherd the unimproved Biodiversity Act through the legislature. But that was then…)

There is more. On social justice, for example: “If our province is to truly build back better,” Rankin noted in his platform, “we must confront our past and learn from our mistakes, in particular those that continue to harm and hold back African Nova Scotians and Mi’kmaq Peoples. We must include marginalized groups in all of government’s decision-making, with honest deference to their lived experience — and then we must act.”

Promising, long-overdue words.

And more still. On the same night he succeeded Stephen McNeil, Nova Scotia’s virulently anti-union-and-proud-of-it premier, Iain Rankin deliberately reached out: “Whether you’re a union member or a business owner, whether you live in downtown Halifax or in a rural community, whether you work in an office or on the land or on the sea, or you are a student or are retired, I’ll be calling on your skills, your experience and your expertise to guide our decisions.”

We shall see, of course.

The portents are mixed. During the campaign, Rankin hinted that his failure to implement the Lahey Report had been the result of a lack of support from the top. But on Saturday night — as might be expected during the one-big-family peaceful transition of power — Rankin was at pains to defer to McNeil, whom he said “has shown more political courage than any premier in our history,” and whose examples moving forward he sought to emulate and evolve. And blah blah blah.

The first question is what will he actually do first?

If he truly wants to present himself as the voice of a new generation, he will use his first days in power to dismantle that Great Wall of Secrecy around what should be public information and accountability in Nova Scotia. That would be a start. And a signal.

This is Iain Rankin’s moment. Will he seize it?

Stephen Kimber

Stephen Kimber is an award-winning writer, editor, broadcaster, and educator. A journalist for more than 50 years whose work has appeared in most Canadian newspapers and magazines, he is the author of...

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  1. Yawn. Here we go again. It would be nice if the new premier fulfilled his promises, but promises are made for elections.
    The first post-selection comment I heard about him: “Isn’t he the guy who screwed up the forestry plans?” Maybe he can live that down.