N.S. premier shuffles several cabinet positions, creates new mines department
By Michael MacDonald, THE CANADIAN PRESS
Published Thursday, July 5, 2018 11:43AM ADT
Last Updated Thursday, July 5, 2018 3:21PM ADT
HALIFAX -- Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil shuffled his cabinet Thursday, saying he wants his Liberal government to focus more of its attention on the province's mining and forestry industries.
The changes come as the government adjusts to a shrinking offshore energy sector and increasing scrutiny about the amount of clear-cutting taking place in the province's forests.
One new minister was added to the cabinet -- former Progressive Conservative Chuck Porter is now the minister for municipal affairs -- and three other ministers were given new duties.
Margaret Miller, the former natural resources minister, has been appointed as environment minister, replacing Iain Rankin. Miller served as environment minister between 2016 and the most recent cabinet shuffle in June 2017.
"There's been a renewed focus on the forestry sector," McNeil said after a brief swearing-in ceremony at the lieutenant-governor's official residence.
Clear-cutting and other forestry practices in Nova Scotia will be highlighted in a highly anticipated report by University of King's College president William Lahey, which is expected to be released soon.
In 2016, McNeil backed away from a previously stated goal of reducing clear-cutting on Crown land by 50 per cent.
As well, the government has faced criticism for allowing the harvesting of old-growth forests in eastern Nova Scotia.
McNeil said Miller would not have been a good fit for the lands and forestry portfolio because she has a background in forestry.
"I wanted to avoid the suggestion there was a conflict with minister Miller," he said.
Rankin is now the minister of lands and forestry, which is what remains of the Natural Resources Department now that responsibility for mines has been shifted to the new Energy and Mines Department. Derek Mombourquette, the former minister of municipal affairs, will lead that department.
McNeil said it made sense to put mines and energy together.
"Much of what they do is very similar, and they used to be together," he said.
Rankin is leaving the environment portfolio as a number of sensitive files are attracting more public attention, including the cleanup of the Boat Harbour effluent ponds near Pictou, N.S., and the planned underground natural gas storage facility near Stewiacke.
McNeil rejected the suggestion that a stronger minister was needed to handle those files, saying Rankin was an "outstanding" minister with good communication skills.
Meanwhile, government house leader Geoff MacLellan is losing the energy portfolio, but will retain his role as minister of business, trade and Service Nova Scotia, while also joining the Treasury and Policy Board.
As for Porter, McNeil scoffed at the suggestion that he was finally getting a reward after crossing the floor of the legislature to join the Liberals.
"That's ancient history," the premier said. "This was looking at the skill set that was required at this moment in time."
Porter joined the Liberal caucus in February 2016 after sitting as an Independent for almost two years. At the time, the premier said Porter wasn't promised anything in return for his move.
Porter was first elected as a Tory to represent Hants West in 2006.