A correctional officer from Sydney has been elected president of the Nova Scotia government’s employees’ union, a position that hasn’t seen a new leader in 17 years.

Jason MacLean took over as leader on Saturday at a union convention. He says he already has plans as the union goes forward.

“The biggest issues I see for the union is one, opening some sort of dialogue with government and figuring out, 'Do they still want to decimate public services, or do they want to work with their public services?'" said MacLean.

MacLean first joined his local in 1999 and has been on the board of directors and executive level since 2003.

His predecessor Joan Jessome announced late last year that she would step down after holding the position for over a decade and a half. 

"It's kind of surreal,” said Jessome. “It's really strange to be sitting with the delegates and not running, not having my name put forward to be voted on, but I know it was time, and Jason will be able to do the job."

"Joan has been great,” said MacLeaod. “She's been a mentor of mine. I've worked with her the last 13 years, I've learned a lot from her, so there's no slouch coming behind her."

Jessome's leadership was celebrated at union dinner Friday night – and there was a lot to celebrate. Jessome has battled no fewer than four Nova Scotia premiers over the years.

She says now was the right time to step aside, but offered some advice to her successor.

"The job itself is not a physical job, it's a mental job,” said Jessome. “It's a job where you've got to make decisions, you've got to take ownership for the decisions, you got to make them for the right reasons and you have to be able to defend them."

Jessome says she wants to take some much-needed time off, and after that, she wants to become an advocate for mental health in the province.

"I've got the skills and I've got the connections and so I'm going to take advantage of that," she said.

As for MacLean, he wants to keep building NSGEU pride and has hopes to unionize the entire province.

"My goals and hopes is just to create a better Nova Scotia, and have better work conditions, better work wages, and not be apologetic on people making good money because it's money that's made in this province, it's spent in this province," said MacLean.

Maclean says the union is already looking ahead to the next provincial election.

With files from CTV Atlantic’s Suzette Belliveau.