Electoral Dumping Day in Nova Scotia.

Oct 10

In the Canadian province of Nova Scotia, “dumping day” traditionally refers to the opening day of lobster season, when fisherman dump their traps into the ocean in pursuit of those delicious crustaceans.

On October 8, 2013, “dumping day” came early and had an entirely different meaning for the province’s government.

Four years ago, Nova Scotians for the first time elected the New Democratic Party (NDP) into power.

What made this move so shocking was Nova Scotia for over a century traditionally voted for the Liberal and Conservative parties. So entrenched were these two, the NDP – apart from a solid foundation of support in recent years in the Halifax Regional Municipality (HRM)- seemed resigned to being the “conscience” of Province House, putting focus on social issues like poverty, education, and the environment.

But years of ineptness and corruption by respective Liberal and Conservative governments over two decades tested the patience of even the most stoic and stanchest Nova Scotian political traditionalist. By 2009, weary voters were willing to make a change, and cast their lot with the NDP and its leader, Darrell Dexter.

Former NS premier Darrell Dexter.

Former NS premier Darrell Dexter.

Many of the NDP seats came from the HRM, but they received surprising support from several rural ridings which broke with their long-standing traditions of voting for the Conservatives or Liberals. That was enough to to put the NDP and leader Darrell Dexter over the top and into power for the first time.

Four years later, an electorate upset over what was perceived as bungling by a premier and a party deemed out of touch with the real needs of Nova Scotians swept Dexter and the NDP from power.

The loss was so overwhelming (Liberals winning 33 seats, the Conservative 11 and the NDP only 7) Dexter himself lost his seat in Cole Harbour-Portland Valley.

Losing the election was bad enough for a party hoping to finally establish itself as a viable governing alternative in Nova Scotia. Dexter losing his seat was insult to injury.

Several factors attributed to the NDP’s fall in Nova Scotia, but the biggest was Dexter and his party were seen by voters as focused too much on his HRM “fortress”, failing to help voters in the other ridings, especially those in struggling rural ones.

This was particularly true in Southwest Nova Scotia, where the NDP’s decision to cancel funding for the Yarmouth-to-Maine ferry proved devastating to the local economy. Though the NDP would eventually get a deal in place for a new ferry shortly before the election, voters in that region considered it a cynical ploy to buy their support.

Dexter was also accused of ignoring the left wing of his party, failing to draw upon the support of younger members or to canvass his party for ideas on addressing those issues (the environment, poverty and health care) long dear to NDP supporters.

Even with the issues the NDP got right (balancing the budget, attracting shipbuilding jobs to Halifax and highway improvement), they did such a poor job hyping those accomplishments they were unable to use them to counter much of the growing negativity toward them. It came home to roost during the 2013 Election.

If the NDP thought HRM would help them weather the storm from the rural ridings in this election, they were sadly mistaken. Having received heavy support from HRM in the previous two elections, this time the NDP managed to pick up only two seats. Several long-standing NDP MLAs from the area, some of whom formed part of Dexter’s cabinet, lost their seats.

With the Liberals back in power for the first time in 14 years, what does the future holds for the NDP?

Having been swept out of power after only four years, one is left to wonder if, in this staunchly traditional province, they can regain power again.

Time heals all wounds, but in Nova Scotia, they have long memories, especially in politics. A generation or two from now, there will be voters who’ll remember what the NDP did or didn’t do. It’s possible the Dexter government may have seriously damaged their party’s chances of regaining power again, at least in living memory.

The stunning defeat of Nova Scotia’s NDP government could also prove a significant setback for the federal NDP’s hopes of broadening its appeal in the province.

Federal NDP leader Thomas Mulcair now faces a difficult task trying to sell Nova Scotians that the federal NDP will be better than the provincial one just ousted from power by the next federal election in 2015.

One comment

  1. I said in 2009 they’d be the most useless government in NS history. It took 4 years, but the rest of the people in the province wised up too.

    Good riddance, hopefully we’ll be like Ontario and not make that mistake again.

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