12/20/2017 12:18 EST | Updated 12/21/2017 11:23 EST

Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil says he intends to run for third term

HALIFAX — Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil has made no secret of the fact he likes his job — and now he's making it clear that he wants to stick around for a third term.

In a year-end interview with The Canadian Press, McNeil said he believes he has work to do beyond his second term, which only began May 30 when the Liberals won their second consecutive majority government.

"I have every intention to be seeking a third mandate," said McNeil. "I'm very proud of what we have been doing."

McNeil pointed to the government's work in putting the province's fiscal house in order over the past four years as a primary reason for wanting to continue on in office.

Two months after the Liberals took office in 2013, they forecasted a $481-million deficit, largely after deciding to book $280 million in pension obligations. By last September's budget, the government estimated a slim $21.3-million surplus, following a surplus of nearly $150 million for fiscal 2016-17.

The modest surplus was delivered to a large extent on the back of contract strife with public sector unions, including teachers and health care workers.

There have also been challenges to the health care system, including persistent family doctor shortages, as the government moved to amalgamate the province's nine health authorities into a single administrative unit.

"I'm not sure people fully understand the level of resolve it took from my colleagues. No one enjoys having to go through some of the stuff that we've gone through as a government, but it was fundamentally in our belief the right thing for the province."

Occasionally the job has led to frustrations that boil over, McNeil admitted, including when he dressed down Auditor General Michael Pickup following a cabinet meeting last month.

Pickup's Nov. 22 report was critical of how the province communicates its health care strategy, and pointed out shortcomings in mental health and homecare. The auditor general also said public agencies had done a poor job of communicating their plan to address problems in primary care, including doctor shortages.

McNeil swung back the next day, telling reporters that if Pickup wanted to comment on public policy he should run for office. He also questioned whether Pickup had strayed from his mandate — a question Pickup deftly addressed during an appearance before the legislature's public accounts committee.

The premier said he now believes his response was a personal low point in 2017.

"While there are many days that are frustrating you need to be able to manage that frustration. That was not one of those days that I did manage it as well as I think someone in my position should."

The odd irritation aside, McNeil said he believes the government is now in a better position to build the province.

"Not only our population, but economic opportunities in this province and I want to be part of that," he said.

McNeil said that's the reason he has told members of his cabinet to have their future decided shortly after the budget is delivered in the second year of the current mandate.

He said those who are leaving will be removed from cabinet, and it will be retooled with an eye toward a third mandate.

"I don't want all the hard work of the last four years to be for naught," he said. "I think the province is on the cusp of doing some great things."