Liberal leadership candidate tackles climate change, spending, equality

MABOU HARBOUR: One of three candidates seeking the leadership of the Nova Scotia Liberal Party wants to mandate new priorities and make new investments, while maintaining fiscal discipline.

Talking to The Reporter from his cottage in Mabou Harbour, Timberlea-Prospect MLA Iain Rankin touted his connections to the Strait area, which includes his father and Mabou native Reg Rankin, a former assistant to federal cabinet minister and local Member of Parliament Allan J. MacEachen.

After leaving the area when he was young, and despite living in other parts of the country and province, Rankin said he remained close to Inverness County.

While in Mabou, Rankin said he was immersed in Cape Breton’s rich Gaelic culture; hearing tales of his ancestors alongside his 47 first cousins, 24 aunts and uncles, and his grandparents. Two weeks a year were spent at the Gaelic College learning about his heritage, practicing the Gaelic language, and refining his talents on the bagpipes.

“I still say I’m from here because I was born at the Inverness hospital,” he noted. “We did spend a lot of the time here. Dad’s side of the family is large and summers here were great to be around my cousins, and going to the Gaelic College, and things like that.”

Upon graduating university, Rankin moved to Alberta and later to Ontario to pursue his career in business. After moving back to Nova Scotia, Rankin was first elected in 2013 and re-elected four years later.

In 2017, Rankin was appointed Minister of Environment, and later as Minister of Lands and Forestry.

“I believe I have more wide-ranging experience in several industries, from commercial development, to self-storage, to managing the hospitality industry,” he noted. “I’ve been a business analyst for redevelopment projects across the country. That experience, I think, provides me with a certain advantage when looking at complex issues and the understanding that we need to make sure that we’re not running structural deficits. But there’s a connection between the economy, the environment and social well-being.

One of Rankin’s major platform planks is an equitable economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. Rankin asserts that all levels of government must take collective action – in partnership with communities and the private sector – to support a recovery that focuses on strengthening local economies and creating jobs, increasing the availability of affordable housing, and ensuring food and energy security.

“I think we need to both manage the COVID-19 pandemic to keep people safe and ensure that we continue with what Dr. Strang and the Premier have done with that,” he said. “But at the same time start to think about how our economic recovery will look. Cape Breton, I think will be an instrumental part in how we shape the future of the province and how we can help support our industries that are both long-standing industries – like forestry and fishing, and mining – but also make sure that we’re supporting the ocean tech and clean tech; all the things that I would call emerging sectors.”

In health care, Rankin is calling for a modern, reliable and resilient system that can handle the pressures of the pandemic and other emerging challenges. Rankin wants to invest more in public health to ensure Nova Scotians can access appropriate care, wherever they live.

The candidate is also calling for bold climate action. Declaring that the climate crisis is here, he wants to work with the federal government to get the province off of coal power ahead of schedule. Rankin said investments in energy efficiency upgrades for low-income families and renters can lift vulnerable populations out of energy poverty, reduce emissions, and create jobs.

He wants to invest in homegrown innovations in green technology that will give Nova Scotia an advantage. In doing so, Rankin said that will drive growth now and set the foundation for the jobs of tomorrow, while protecting the planet.

Rankin is calling for Nova Scotia to confront its past and learn from mistakes, particularly those that continue to harm and hold back African Nova Scotians and Mi’kmaq people. He wants to include marginalized groups in all government decision-making.

“We have an opportunity of a lifetime right now to look at how we can reshape our economy to be more low-carbon and more socially inclusive,” Rankin stated. “The pandemic has brought to the surface some embedded challenging issues with inequality and with child poverty. Looking at how we best support communities that have been marginalized. The disparity in certain populations, with participating in the workforce, achievement gaps, those are the issues I see as a way forward.”

The leadership candidate also wants to double-down on support for innovators like the Nova Scotia Community College and universities so more technology breakthroughs are developed in labs and businesses. He said this requires increased investments in applied research, co-op programs, and support for new graduates.

Rankin said Nova Scotia must also continue to improve the immigration system to attract, educate, train, and retain top talent from around the world.

Another priority for Rankin includes smart investments in infrastructure. He feels the economy can be stimulated by making the right investments in infrastructure. In addition to putting people to work, Rankin said it will create a more resilient province better protected from the impacts of a changing climate.

To accomplish this, he said Nova Scotia will have to work in collaboration with federal and municipal partners to make smart investments in green infrastructure, including active transportation infrastructure.

Calling himself an “Allan MacEachen Liberal,” Rankin sees himself as a moderate.

“I believe I’m in the centre,” he declared. “The Liberal Party should stand for social justice and progress on the environment, but at the same time, fiscal responsibility is important to me as a business person. Ensuring that we are managing our finances prudently, I understand that as someone who’s managed businesses in many industries. Society is measured on how we treat our most marginalized populations. Politics, I believe, as Allan would say, is putting bread on the table and that helps guide my philosophy in politics.”