Nova Scotia Premier Iain Rankin has called a provincial election for Aug. 17, hoping to secure a third consecutive term for the Liberal party.

Rankin was sworn in as premier less than five months ago, replacing Stephen McNeil before Nova Scotia — the only province with no fixed election date — entered the third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. At 38, the soft-spoken former business manager is Canada's youngest premier.

In late April, as COVID-19 infections spiked in the Halifax area, Rankin imposed tough lockdown measures and closed the province's borders. As with two previous lockdowns, Nova Scotians followed the rules and case numbers dropped quickly.

A survey of 1,200 adult voters in May suggested Nova Scotians were impressed with how Rankin handled his first real challenge as Liberal premier, which he stickhandled with the help of Dr. Robert Strang, the province's popular chief medical officer of health. The poll, released June 3 by Narrative Research, placed the Liberals well ahead in voter support.

With a margin of error of plus or minus 2.8 percentage points, the survey found that 52 per cent of decided voters said they would vote for the Liberals. The Progressive Conservatives trailed at 24 per cent, the NDP were at 19 per cent and the Green party had five per cent.

"Nova Scotians have a favourable opinion of the new premier, but these results represent a snapshot of public opinion as of the end of May, prior to the launch of reopening plans," Narrative Research CEO Margaret Brigley said at the time.

On June 30, Rankin eased restrictions on businesses and reopened Nova Scotia's borders to travellers from outside Atlantic Canada, though isolation requirements remain for those who haven't been fully vaccinated.

Every provincial or territorial government in Canada that has sought re-election since the onset of the pandemic in March 2020 has won. That includes governments in New Brunswick, British Columbia, Saskatchewan, Newfoundland and Labrador and Yukon.

Despite their lead in the polls, the Nova Scotia Liberals are facing some challenges, not the least of which is the fact that many members of the Liberal caucus have chosen not to run for re-election, including seven former cabinet ministers and the former premier, McNeil.

#NovaScotia Premier Iain Rankin calls summer #election with vote set for Aug. 17. #NSPoli

As well, Rankin was put on the defensive earlier this month after he revealed that as a young man he had been convicted of drunk driving in 2003, and was charged again in 2005, though he was cleared in the latter case.

In the days that followed, the premier repeatedly apologized for the poor choices he made in his 20s, saying he regretted that alcohol was once "a big part" of his life. He insisted that he was a changed man and announced that he and his wife were expecting their first child in November.

Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Houston has acknowledged the Liberals will benefit from launching a campaign as the province emerges from a tough lockdown.

Houston, a 51-year-old chartered accountant who has led the Tories since October 2018, has argued the province should focus on getting the population fully vaccinated rather than on electoral politics. This will be Houston's first election as leader.

His party has taken a tough line on the drunk driving issue, repeatedly saying Rankin misled Nova Scotians by downplaying the 2005 incident, which resulted in an impaired driving conviction that was later overturned on appeal.

Meanwhile, NDP Leader Gary Burrill, a 65-year-old United Church minister who has led the party since February 2016, is contesting his second election as leader.

The last time the Liberals won three or more elections in a row was in the 1930s and 1940s, when they won six consecutive elections — all but one of them under the leadership of Angus L. Macdonald. The Tories won three or more consecutive elections between 1978 and 1988, and again between 1999 and 2006.

Having entered the fifth year of their current mandate in May, resignations had reduced the Liberals to a minority of the seats in the legislature. At dissolution, the Liberals held 24 of 51 seats, followed by the Progressive Conservatives with 17. The New Democrats had five seats, and there were three Independents and two vacancies.

The coming election will feature races in 55 ridings because the province decided last year to revive four "protected" seats in districts where the government wants to increase the participation and representation of Acadians and African-Nova Scotians.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 17, 2021.

This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Facebook and Canadian Press News Fellowship.

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