As Stephen McNeil’s leadership as Premier in Nova Scotia concludes, it is important to reflect on his accomplishments and the legacy he leaves across this province. During his 17 years as an elected Member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA), he has demonstrated through both words and actions that he cared for Nova Scotians regardless of their socio-economic status or for the political party they supported. He saw himself as one who represented and advocated for every Nova Scotian, and he did. He showed compassion for those less fortunate, and for those who had been harmed by governments in the past. For example, his apology for those who were residents at the Home for Colored Children, those who were abused by the people charged with their care. He followed that apology by establishing a team that was led by, and included, members of the African Nova Scotian community. He built a level of trust with the leaders of that community, and determined that future decisions by government would Do No Harm to their residents.
He embraced those with intellectual challenges, and became a strong advocate for Special Olympian athletes. He introduced the Boat Harbour Act which made a commitment to clean up the effluent from Northern Pulp Mill, which had for years contaminated waters around Pictou Landing First Nations community as well as many private properties owned by Pictou County residents. This contamination, considered to be one of the worst cases of environmental racism in Nova Scotia had been known by, and ignored by Premiers and Governments in the past. Many promised, but none delivered to begin the cleanup. Stephen McNeil promised, and he did. It was the right thing to do. It takes strong leadership to make difficult decisions. A leader cannot be paralyzed by inaction or fear. Neither can they be influenced by the loudest voice or the largest protest. Policy must reflect needs and fairness.
Settling wage contracts at the expense of programs in Health and Education is unfair to those who need those programs, like our students. Stephen McNeil respected the needs of all Nova Scotians and made decisions that were fair and that the province could afford.
Prior to COVID in March of 2020, the economy of this province was very strong. It was our Premier’s focus on good fiscal management, investing in businesses here in Nova Scotia, expanding our export growth and working with the private sector that earned our province credit ratings and fiscal sustainability scores that were leaders across Canada. Our population is the highest on record. Prior to COVID our employment record was high; our unemployment rate was low. This has put us in a strong position for economic recovery once COVID is controlled. No where in Canada has the leadership throughout the pandemic been stronger and more effective than right here in Nova Scotia. We are the envy of other provinces and indeed other countries.
We can thank Stephen McNeil for working closely with Dr. Robert Strang, and for respecting the medical advice he was given. Nova Scotians responded in a positive way. Stephen McNeil believed the honour and privilege to be Premier was about purpose, not power. He remained focused, pragmatic and determined to lead this province and to leave it in a better position because of his leadership. The importance of family and his compassion for others demonstrated that he never forgot his roots in rural Nova Scotia.
Karen Casey, MLA