HALIFAX -- Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil will be stepping down as premier of the province and leaving public office.

McNeil made the surprise announcement during a news conference in Halifax on Thursday.

“Seventeen years is a long time and it’s long enough,” said McNeil.

“I love this job. I’ve enjoyed every day of it and every day I’m inspired by the people of this province, but this is not a lifelong career.”

McNeil insisted he still loves being premier of Nova Scotia, but, after seven years, said he believes it’s time for someone else to lead the province.

“Leadership matters, leadership is important, but it needs to change. It can’t continue to stay the same person, for the health of the organization and the province,” he said.

"Two terms is a long time.”

When asked what’s next, McNeil said he isn’t certain.

“I’m fortunate to have diverse interests, but we’ll see. There’s nothing there other than I know it’s time for me to change that direction.”

As for the timing, McNeil said he thought about stepping down earlier this year, but stayed on because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I had looked at doing it earlier this year; of course COVID hit and then I recommitted to the job and my purpose here and I’m feeling comfortable where we are and the party will need time to get someone ready for the next election so this seemed to be the appropriate time to do it,” he said.

McNeil is not stepping down immediately; he said he will continue to lead the province during the COVID-19 pandemic and wants to give the Nova Scotia Liberal party time to prepare for a campaign and choose a new leader.

“I will stay on and continue to govern and I will be here to work with public health to keep Nova Scotians safe until the next leader is chosen,” said the premier.

“We’re preparing for a second wave and I’ll be here. I will be here through that. I’m not leaving and I want to reassure Nova Scotians that I’m not leaving.”

McNeil noted that he celebrated his 17th year in politics on Wednesday and said his past seven years as premier of Nova Scotia have been the most rewarding of his career.

“Being your premier has been a privilege and an honour -- something I have never taken for granted,” he said.

“We have made some tough decisions but we stuck together because we believed we were doing what was right for the future of this province.”

McNeil thanked his colleagues and became emotional when talking about his wife, Andrea, and two children, Colleen and Jeffrey.

“They have sacrificed a lot for me to pursue a career in public office and I want to thank them very much for everything that they have done,” said the premier while fighting back tears.

McNeil noted that he has been an elected official for half of his marriage and his children, now young adults, were only 11 and 13 when he was first elected.

“It’s hard for my kids to have listened to the way politicians are talked about in this province, social media, the impact it has on them, the fact that we can say anything and anyone can accuse you of anything and say anything about you, it takes its toll, but they’ve stood the test,” he said.

McNeil was first elected as the MLA for Annapolis in 2003. He was elected premier in 2013 and re-elected in 2017, leading the Nova Scotia Liberals to two majority governments.


McNeil’s announcement came as a surprise to many Nova Scotians, including the opposition leaders and other local politicians.

Nova Scotia Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Houston acknowledged that he and the premier often disagreed, but said McNeil believed he was building the “best possible version of Nova Scotia.”

Nova Scotia NDP Leader Gary Burrill said he recognized McNeil as a “person of singular ability and drive” and wished him well as he embarks on a new chapter.

Halifax Mayor Mike Savage thanked the premier for his service and leadership and called him "a friend."

Cecil Clarke, mayor of the Cape Breton Regional Municipality, thanked McNeil for his commitment and dedication.

Among those reacting to the news is Jason MacLean, president of the Nova Scotia Government and General Employees Union. McNeil had a contentious battle with several unions during his time in office and MacLean didn’t shy away from his feelings about the premier in a statement.

“I commend anyone who steps into the political arena: it isn't an easy job. That said, Stephen McNeil has spent most of his seven years in office attacking the rights of workers,” said MacLean in an emailed statement. “I sincerely hope that the Liberal Party of Nova Scotia will take this opportunity to alter their course and elect someone with more progressive views, and someone who is interested in working collaboratively with others.”