'We have the best ideas and we have the best team,' Rankin says in interview with CTV Atlantic

Nova Scotians choose a new government on Aug. 17. Last Tuesday night, CTV Atlantic launched a series of interviews with the leaders of the three major parties. Tonight, anchor Steve Murphy spoke with Liberal leader Iain Rankin. Here is an edited transcript of that interview.

STEVE MURPHY: Mr. Rankin as the only province without a fixed election date, the decision to have this summer election during a pandemic was yours and yours alone. How can a state of emergency and active state of emergency, possibly be the best time to have an election?

IAIN RANKIN: We're approaching the final phase of our recovery plan. We still need to take it slow. I've been the premier for five months now, I came in at the tail end of the the fourth year of our mandate plan. We did confront the third wave and, credit to Nova Scotians and a strong public health team, we got through that very difficult period of time. I've accomplished the things that I ran on in the leadership race, I delivered on a lot of commitments around equity, environment, and growing back a strong economy, so I'm really excited about going out to Nova Scotians. I feel the momentum out there people are excited, and I'm looking forward to Nova Scotians weighing in on what to do next on ensuring that we have a strong economic recovery now.

SM: You're saying we're nearing the end, when do you plan to end the state of emergency?

IR: We still have a ways to get to 75 per cent of our second doses to complete Phase 4 and enter into Phase 5 -- that's when you'll see masks start to come off Nova Scotians. I do contact Dr. Strang to continue to watch things especially with an uptick in cases in New Brunswick and other provinces, so we're not out of the woods yet. We need to stay focused, but we are recovering and this election is about ideas for the future. (I'm) really proud of some of the investments that we're bringing out to ensure that we have the right training for skills for those jobs of tomorrow and I'm really excited about this province's leading on the economic recovery, the way that we lead the country in our pandemic response.

SM: To be clear though, masks come off at 75 per cent of the eligible population with double doses, that's a firm promise?

IR: I value my relationship with Dr. Strang and Public Health. What he said is that we would shift to an education mode, so we would look at some kind of voluntary wearing of masks in indoor places. We've seen some success, obviously with no flu and other symptoms of other viruses being spread, so we're learning through the pandemic and we're learning about all sorts of things on how to tackle tough issues and healthcare and things like that so we are looking to open up slowly and, again, this is how we were able to lead in our vaccine delivery program because it's evidence based, that's how we should continue to respond to the pandemic.

SM: You will know Mr. Rankin that no government in Nova Scotia has been reelected to a third consecutive majority since John Buchanan back in 1988. So, after eight years of majority rule, your party has had the opportunity surely to implement all of its policies and a party can be judged on what it has done and what it hasn't done in eight years. So, given your eight years in power. Why should Nova Scotians stick with this party, when it's already had two terms, and all of the opportunities, it could have needed to do whatever he wanted?

IR: We have the best ideas and we have the best team, Frankly, I've said in the leadership race that this is about what's next for Nova Scotians. We have done tremendous work. We were in a strong financial position as we entered the pandemic and that's how this province was able to respond to help Nova Scotians that needed it the most -- businesses that were forced to shut down. Now, we need to start to look at the challenges that were highlighted through the pandemic. We've made some real important investments in my first budget in long-term care, expanding mental health supports, recruiting more doctors. These are the things that we need to tackle together in the same spirit that we were able to come together to tackle COVID-19 and I'm really excited about a renewed Liberal team, you know, people from all over different backgrounds and this is really exciting for us.

SM: But you're now talking about doing things you didn't do during the eight years when you had the opportunity to do them. Why didn't you and Stephen McNeil, do these things, when you had the opportunity?

IR: Well I can get many examples of things that we did really well: pre-primary program when we got back to a fiscal position was the single largest social program of my lifetime. Now we've just signed a landmark deal with the federal government for childcare $10 a day childcare. This is how we support families in this province and, yes, of course our population is growing faster than it ever has, so we have housing issues. I'm prepared to make the investments we've already shown commitment to, to ensure that we tackle these tough issues. I want to work together with Nova Scotians with that same tenacity that we've tackled the pandemic with.

SM: But I want to be clear Mr. Rankin for those who like the Stephen McNeil approach his politics and his style. Are you offering what amounts to a third McNeil term or is this a vote for something different?

IR: This is an evolution of where we've come from and where we need to go. Stephen McNeil has been a great leader for this province. He's made courageous decisions confronting environmental racism at Boat Harbour, the way that he was close with Dr. Strang and their response to the pandemic. I want to continue on with that evidence-based approach, but we have obviously different views on different things, and we need to start moving forward. I think I've clearly laid out my vision around equity environment and the economy, how those things go together for my throne speech, to the budget, all the way through to this campaign. I'm going to stay focused on supporting Nova Scotians during this period of time, and look forward to a real strong economic recovery that supports all Nova Scotians.

SM: Your brief tenure as leader of the Liberal Party and Premier has been marked by a few controversies that I do want to touch on. I want to begin with giving you an opportunity to clear the air right here and right now about what really happened with your candidate in Dartmouth South, and why her candidacy was withdrawn. What happened?

The Nova Scotia Liberal party has named a replacement for Dartmouth South in the upcoming election, after former candidate Robyn Ingraham dropped out last week following a scathing social media post claiming it was due to revealing photos.

IR: Well, respectfully, Steve, I really like to have an opportunity to speak to Robin myself. My understanding from my team is she withdrew. I'm really proud of the work that my team has done. I've asked them to go out and find very diverse candidates that come from different backgrounds, different life experiences. I wanted to have 50 per cent women on the ticket -- we have 42 per cent. We're going to continue to welcome people from, from different backgrounds, and we obviously have a record on that. We've created programs for equity, we have new office of equity and anti-racism initiatives, so I'm really proud of those efforts. We have a new candidate and Dartmouth South, and I'm looking forward to continuing on in this campaign talking about the tough issues that are facing Nova Scotians.

SM: But Mr. Rankin, this is still shrouded in fog. I mean, at one point you said you didn't know and hadn't spoken with Ms. Ingraham, but surely as leader of the party, don't you approve all of your candidates. Don't you talk to all of your candidates?

IR: I tried to have a discussion with them and I have tried. So three times, I've tried to reach out to Robin, and the green light process is an arm's length one, so that they're able to go through everything objectively. I am sad to lose a candidate, as any leader would be, and I was sad that she withdrew, but I have to move forward and focus on the things that really matter to me. Equity matters to me, confronting the climate crisis matters to me, and growing back a strong economy. These are the issues that are so important in this campaign; I need to stay focused.

SM: You've also said transparency matters to you. You became leader of the Liberal party and premier without publicly disclosing your youthful DUI charges. What might people conclude -- what should they conclude from those DUIs in the way that you have accounted for them?

IR: I was forthcoming with that information when I decided to run for public office. I'm not a perfect person, I never said that I was obviously, when I was 20 years old, I made decisions that I regret deeply. But, I needed to find a way to move on with my life and learn from my experiences, good and bad.

SM: Fair enough.

IR: It's a privilege to be the premier of this province. That's a (matter of) public record, and I'll move on and continue to do my best and focus on what matters to me and that's helping Nova Scotians.

SM: But why did you not feel it was necessary to reveal the DUIs publicly until you were actually asked about it by a reporter just before the writs were dropped? Why not put that on the table, when you start the leadership of the party for example?

IR: Well, I thought what was relevant to running for premier and MLA was what you can bring or who you are, then, and not what happened 20 years ago. I did disclose it voluntarily to everyone who needed to know. This was not something that was a secret amongst my circles, in my community and I wanted to make sure that I was up front with Nova Scotians and that I had an opportunity to tell them myself and that's what I did.

SM: But does the general public, not have a right to know about the criminal conviction of a person seeking public office as a point of principle?

IR: Sure and I did let them know, and, you know, this isn't something that I'm proud of, but I never shied away from it. Anytime anyone asked me a question about this, I was forthright with them. I've moved on and I'm now focused on being the leader of this province and ensuring that we can be the very best that we possibly can be. That's going to be my continued focus this campaign, is about where we need to go next after getting through a very difficult period of time in this pandemic. I believe that we have the best ideas, the best team, and I look forward to earning a support from all Nova Scotians.

SM: As recently as today, you've again characterized yourself as an environmentalist. You were minister of environment, but of course critics say you talk the talk, and didn't walk the walk and they cite the decision to remove Owls Head from the parks and protected areas list. It was identified as a park, by the way in 2013, but not designated and to be clear, the Supreme Court has said that you did nothing illegal, but I do want to ask, knowing that it been on the protected list, and that it was supposed to be a park. Why were you comfortable with the delisting Owls Head?

The 285-hectare area of coastal barrens and wetlands known as Owls Head, shown in a handout photo, was quietly removed from a government list of lands awaiting legal protection last March. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Nova Scotia Nature Trust)

IR: Well I'm glad that the court showed that we followed the right process, but I do believe that we're still early in the process and that the public deserves to have the say that people have Little Harbour deserve to have a say.

SM: Mr. Rankin, with all due respect, I'm asking you, why did you feel it was okay to de-list it?

IR: It was on a list of candidate protection areas and we had the option and, just like every government before us did, Progressive Conservatives, NDP, did not protect that piece of land even though it was on the list. But we're moving forward we've protected over 60 parks recently -- the size of Owls Head are bigger. We're prepared to protect more. We're on our way to hitting 14 per cent with a new commitment today to reach 17 per cent. I think it's obvious that we support conservation in this province, but we need to make sure that all voices are heard, and that's what I'm prepared to do in this case and we're following the right process.

Editor's note: CTV Atlantic will host a round table with all three of the major party leaders Thursday at 6:30 p.m.