HALIFAX -- A former cabinet minister is the first candidate to jump into the race to succeed Premier Stephen McNeil as leader of the Nova Scotia Liberal party.

Labi Kousoulis resigned Wednesday as minister of labour and advanced education as he officially launched his candidacy in Halifax.

Kousoulis, who represents the riding of Halifax Citadel-Sable Island, was first elected in 2013 and previously served in cabinet as minister of internal services.

"It's a big decision -- I gave it a lot of thought over a couple of weeks," Kousoulis said in an interview.

He said he thinks he's up to the job because he was part of a Liberal government that had seven years of balanced budgets and that built a stronger economy.

Kousoulis said while the COVID-19 pandemic has presented challenges to the economy, the government's response to the health crisis and the low rates of infection in the province have presented an opportunity.

"There's an attractiveness to the rest of Canada and the rest of the world in terms of how we've handled COVID," he said. "We also have our opportunities that we've always had ... our tech sector, our wine industry, agriculture and ocean tech."

A new leader will be chosen Feb. 6 to replace McNeil, who announced his resignation in August.

Candidates have until Oct. 9 to enter the race.

In a news release, Kousoulis said former federal Liberal MP Mary Clancy and Halifax businessman Travis McDonough have joined his campaign as advisers.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 30, 2020.