Stephen McNeil inspired by family
HALIFAX - Stephen McNeil, Nova Scotia's premier-designate, comes from a family that likes to do things in a big way.
The 48-year-old Liberal leader is the 12th of 17 children, all raised in the province's scenic Annapolis Valley. He also stands 6-foot-5.
Before entering politics, McNeil owned an appliance repair shop, but public service has always figured prominently in his life.
McNeil's late mother, Theresa McNeil, was left to raise the big family on her own when her husband, Burt, died suddenly in 1977. But that didn't stop her from later becoming the high sheriff of Annapolis County â€” the first woman to hold such a position in Canada.
"I can't imagine the pressure she would have felt," McNeil said in a recent interview. "Not only did she take on the challenge but she flourished in that role."
As well, many of his 10 brothers and six sisters also chose to serve the public in various ways, though not in politics.
A graduate of a community college program, McNeil has said he regrets not attending university.
McNeil first ran unsuccessfully as a Liberal candidate in the riding of Annapolis in 1999. He says he was lured to run again four years later because of his admiration for former party leader and friend Danny Graham.
McNeil won the seat in 2003, although the Liberals finished third across the province.
After Graham's sudden departure as leader after that election, McNeil won re-election in 2006 when Francis MacKenzie was the party's leader. The Liberals finished third again.
It was when MacKenzie stepped down as leader that McNeil says he was encouraged by supporters to consider running for the top job, which he won in 2007. Two years later, McNeil led the Liberals to a second-place finish as Nova Scotia became the first province in Atlantic Canada to elect an NDP government.
Despite his lack of a university education, McNeil says his experience as the owner of a small business Ââ€” and six years as Liberal leader â€” have prepared him well to lead a province with a stagnant economy and aging population.
A soft-spoken man who speaks in a deep register, McNeil has a reputation for having a short fuse, something he showed during a televised leaders debate in this election when he snapped at one of his opponents.
It's something McNeil says he's aware of as he tries to maintain an even keel.
"I've had moments in time where my passion shows up," he says. "I can tell you I don't take well to misrepresentation of the facts and I don't take well to people who say one thing and do something different."
McNeil lives in the Annapolis Valley with his wife Andrea and has two grown children, Colleen, 23, Jeffery, 21.