Liberals and New Democrats – what happened in Nova Scotia .. and what’s happening in Ontario ????

Oct 9th, 2013 | By | Category: Canadian Provinces

Premier Darrell Dexter and Jim Irving, CEO of Irving Shipbuilding, share a laugh as they prepare for a late March 2012 news conference in Halifax. The Nova Scotia NDP government loaned Irving Shipbuilding more than $300 million to prepare to fulfil the federal contract Irving won in October 2011. (ERIC WYNNE / Halifax Chronicle Herald).

Opinion pollsters can take at least some pride in yesterday’s October 8 Nova Scotia election. Their polls had been suggesting a Liberal majority government for the past three weeks. And that’s what happened.

(An Abacus Data survey with a last day of polling on October 6 even predicted the province-wide popular vote at 46% Liberal, 27%  Conservative, 26%  NDP, and 1% Green Party. The rounded results on October 8 were 46% Liberal, 27% NDP, 26% Conservative, and 1% Greens.)

All the same, the final seat count in the provincial legislature was especially hard on Darrell Dexter’s former first-ever Nova Scotia New Democratic government. (It was certainly harder than I had been expecting – Liberals 33 seats, Conservatives 11, New Democrats 7. And NDP leader Dexter lost his own seat in Cole Harbour-Portland Valley, albeit by a mere 31 votes.)

The defeat of the Dexter government – and the convincing victory of new Liberal premier-elect, Stephen McNeil – “marks the first time in 131 years that Nova Scotians haven’t given an incumbent party a second chance at running the province.” And the question of just what lies behind the remarkable collapse of the Dexter New Democrats, after they stormed into office with 31 seats and 45% of the popular vote in June 2009, has some real fascination.

Stephen McNeil and Justin Trudeau on the Nova Scotia campaign trail last month.

I live in Ontario myself, and even though I have friends, in-laws, and relatives in Nova Scotia (some of whom do keep me apprised of key political developments), I don’t have an opinion about just what happened in the province yesterday that convinces me, let alone anyone else.

I do know, however, that the Wikipedia site “Nova Scotia general election, 2013” reports on more than 30 Corporate Research Associates opinion polls, from August 2009 to October 2013. With only one exception, in all the polls from August 2009 to June 2012 the NDP was ahead of both the Liberals and the Conservatives – ie, for almost its first three years in office. Then in the late summer of 2012 the Liberals pulled into the lead , and they have remained there until yesterday’s election. Which raises the question (in my mind at any rate) : What happened in 2012 to dampen the popularity of the Dexter New Democrats?

Thomas Mulcair and the Irving family

Darrell Dexter and Thomas Mulcair : did the federal NDP leader help or harm Nova Scotia’s NDP premier? Perhaps only the hairdressers know for sure?

Again I don’t feel I have a credible opinion on this myself. But I have stumbled across two events from March 2012, that others have said had some bearing on yesterday’s political slaughter of the Dexter New Democrats.

First :“On March 24, 2012, Thomas Mulcair was elected to be the new federal NDP leader, succeeding the late Jack Layton.”Â  And as the election results in Nova Scotia became clear last night, back in central Canada the Liberal guru Warren Kinsella tweeted : “This wouldn’t have happened if Layton was still federal leader. Mulcair has hurt the NDP brand everywhere in Canada.”

(Mind you, I’m not saying I agree with this myself. I’m just saying it is something that happened in 2012 that other people think, etc. etc …)

Then, only a few days after this, it was being reported in the local Nova Scotia (and Canada-wide) media : “Irving gets $304M from N.S. for shipbuilding …  Largest single investment ever in N.S. for job creation” ; “Province loans Irving $304 million for shipbuilding … Irving Shipbuilding, which won Canada’s largest-ever defence contract in October, is getting the province’s single largest assistance for a private business – up to $304 million in loans.”

A spy (well actually a relative) in Kentville, NS, who has followed the election closely and with much interest, tells me that in the later part of his time in office Darrell Dexter increasingly alienated much of his political base, among both old-time New Democrats and less partisan progressive people who voted for him and his party in 2009.

Beautiful downtown Kentville, NS. Paul Toman.

Giving an unprecedented large loan to the Irvings – one of the richest business families in Canada, let alone the Maritime provinces – came to symbolize just how far Premier Dexter was straying from his roots. (And see the counterweights editors on “Just what is going on in the Nova Scotia election anyway?,” from about a month ago.)

By election day one of the Liberal buzzes that seemed to be working said that Stephen McNeil – from a family of 17 children that had apparently known at least a few real hard times –  was actually more of a traditional NDP politician than Darrell Dexter : “MacNeil doesn’t support forgivable loans to big corporations – and came down hard on Dexter for loaning millions to the Irvings, [who preside over] one of the most profitable corporations around.”

(Mind you, again, I’m not saying I agree with this myself. I don’t feel I’m in a position to know. I’m just saying it is something that happened in 2012 that other people think, etc. etc …)

Meanwhile back in the land of the neverendum gas plant scandal, etc, etc, etc

Premier Kathleen Wynne addresses the media after the auditor general released her report on the cancelled Oakville gas plant, on the afternoon of Tuesday, October 8, 2013.. (Nathan Denette/Canadian Press).

If Stephen McNeil does prove to be something of an NDP premier in a Liberal lounge suit he will, some would argue, be playing a number that Ontario’s new Premier Kathleen Wynne is fond of too. And who knows? That may be a recipe for fresh Liberal success in such places as both Nova Scotia and Ontario (and could even have implications for Justin Trudeau?).

Yet Premier Wynne has also just had some troubling news. See, eg: “Oakville gas plant cancellation costs $675M, AG says … Wynne says gas plant cancellation costs ‘unacceptably large’”; and “Can Wynne’s Liberals move on from gas plant fallout? …  Premier likely to face frequent reminders about Oakville price tag in months ahead.”

Personally,  I have long been sceptical about the real political legs of the so-called Ontario gas plant scandal that Tim Hudak’s Conservatives have been beating to death for far too long. (While the real problems of the province today get short shrift in the Legislative Assembly.) But Auditor General Bonnie Lysyk’s latest report on Oakville (following her report on Mississauga this past April) has been something of a surprise – and more distressing than usual.

As Graham Murray in his Inside Queen’s Park newsletter has pointed out : “Nobody will be startled that cancelling the costs of the two plants would together loft us into billion dollar territory, but it is news that Lysyk is highly critical of the government’s generosity to its contractors. She contends that the government would have achieved sizeable savings by holding its contractors to the deal negotiated with them instead of undertaking to make them good on the plant move. This will cause much public anger … ”

Just how much public anger of course remains to be seen. We will have to wait for the next batch of opinion polls to get some serious handle on this. Meanwhile the estimable Mr. Murray has also nicely summarized the latest polls – from before AG Lysyk’s latest report on Oakville: “Vector’s October 4 poll has the PCs leading at 34%, down one point from April, with the LIBs at 33%, up one point, the NDP at 24%, down two points, and the Greens at 8%, up one point.
The Nanos poll published October 5 has the LIBs in front with 36%, down 1.2% from July, the PCs at 31.3%, up 0.7%, the NDP at 26.1%, down 0.9%, and the Greens at 6.3%, up 1.4%.”

If the next polls do not show much more dramatic movement away from Premier Wynne’s minority governing party than this, the prospects of a fresh election very soon, that seem to have suddenly revived in some Conservative quarters, would not make much real sense for anyone.

Andrea Horwath and Tim Hudak : can these two strange bedfellows ever act together?

Besides, Mr. Hudak’s Conservatives cannot bring down Ms Wynne’s Liberal minority government all by themselves. They need the co-operation of Andrea Horwath’s New Democrats. And as they ponder what has just happened in Nova Scotia, the Ontario New Democrats might reasonably guess that they really do not have much interest in an election any time soon – no matter how loudly Mr. Hudak continues to rage about the gas plants????

(And Mr. Hudak’s brain trust might itself want to ponder these latest polling results from the great republic to the south of us, that must south of us remain : “Republican Party Favorability Sinks to Record Low … Falls 10 percentage points from September’s 38% … With the Republican-controlled House of Representatives engaged in a tense, government-shuttering budgetary standoff against a Democratic president and Senate, the Republican Party is now viewed favorably by 28% of Americans, down from 38% in September. This is the lowest favorable rating measured for either party since Gallup began asking this question in 1992.”)

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