Is surprise in August 17 Nova Scotia election unexpected harbinger of September 20 across Canada?

Aug 18th, 2021 | By | Category: In Brief

COUNTERWEIGHTS EDITORS, GANATSEKWYAGON, ON, AUGUST 18, 2021. 3 AM EDT. The August 17 provincial election in Nova Scotia started out as a cakewalk for the provincial Liberals. Polls close to the end did show the race had tightened considerably. (See eg “Liberals slightly ahead on eve of Nova Scotia election”.) But 338Canada was suggesting that Tim Houston’s Progressive Conservatives still had only a 14% chance of winning the most seats, let alone a majority government!

According to the numbers reported by CBC News early this morning, in a 55-seat NS House of Assembly where 28 seats constitute a bare majority, the PCs have won 31 seats with 39% of the popular vote. The Liberals have 17 seats with 37% of the vote. The New Democrats have 6 seats with 21% of the vote, and there is one Independent. (The Greens won no seats with 2%. )

At 9:15 PM (EDT) on August 17 Federal Conservative leader Erin O’Toole understandably tweeted with some enthusiasm : “A great night in NS! Congratulations to … the next Premier of Nova Scotia, @TimHoustonNS, on an exciting election win!” Yet before jumping to any very big conclusions about last night’s sea-bound coast implications for the September 20 Canadian federal election, a few particular local circumstances are worth underlining.

Liberals, eg, had been governing modern Canada’s first provincial parliamentary democracy since October 8, 2013, as opposed to October 19, 2015 in the case of the Trudeau Liberals in Ottawa. They were somewhat longer in the tooth. In 2021 the NS Liberals also had a new leader in Premier Iain Rankin, unlike the Trudeau Liberals facing the people on September 20, 2021. (And just before the 2021 NS campaign began Mr. Rankin was confronting such headlines as “Nova Scotia premier on defensive over drunk driving charges he faced years ago.”)

As Michael Tutton at The Canadian Press has explained, during the 2021 provincial campaign in Nova Scotia Progressive Conservative “Leader Tim Houston unveiled a left-leaning platform that promised hundreds of millions of dollars in the first year of the party’s mandate to increase the number of family doctors, bolster the mental health system and create more nursing home beds.”

It could be said that, reading the same current Canadian room, Erin O’Toole’s Conservative Party of Canada has just started the 2021 federal campaign by unveiling its own version of a left-leaning platform for the times. Our progressive reporters on the spot in Nova Scotia, however, have been telling us for a while now that Tim Houston is a real old-school Red Tory “Progressive Conservative.” His PCs are “more progressive” than Iain Rankin’s Liberals. No Canadian progressives we know anywhere have ever said anything remotely similar about former Stephen Harper cabinet minister Erin O’Toole.

Finally, while 338Canada was reporting only a 14% chance that Tim Houston’s Progressive Conservatives would win the most seats let alone a majority government in Nova Scotia in 2021, it has lately been suggesting only a 2% chance that Erin O’Toole’s Conservative Party of Canada will do anything at all similar on September 20, 2021.

Having said all this, we can see three additional reasons for worry among the Trudeau Liberals about Tim Houston’s surprising Progressive Conservative victory in Canada’s most populous Atlantic province, in the August 17, 2021 provincial election.

(1) It does show yet again that the polling data often enough does make mistakes, so to speak. Being primarily about humans it is only human itself. And, eg, to say that there is only a 14% chance a certain political event will happen does not at all mean it is not going to happen. (Now 2% may be a different matter … But even now the polls do tend to show the O’Toole Conservatives not all that much behind the Trudeau Liberals!)

(2) Whatever else, the surprising loss of the provincial Liberals in Nova Scotia is bound to in some degree tarnish the federal Liberal brand (as is now said) in Atlantic Canada. And this is the region where the Trudeau Liberals are strongest in the polls. Almost sweeping the table in federal seats in Atlantic Canada is arguably more important to Trudeau Liberal prospects than often (not) noticed.

Weimar Days by Michael Seward.

(3) The other strong performance last night came from Gary Burrill’s New Democrats. The last 338Canada projection seems to have largely captured this in vote share and seats (6 NDP seats with 21% of the vote on August 17). The same projection almost reversed what finally did happen in seats and vote percentage for Progressive Conservatives and Liberals. And at first blush at least it does appear that some of the unexpected PC strength also leaned on the “divisive progressive vote” between Liberals and New Democrats. Could Gary Burrill’s NS NDP be a model for Jagmeet Singh’s NDP as well on September 20?

It’s now too late in the early morning. But the last thought we all seem to agree on (at the moment) concerns the only benefit the Trudeau Liberals might finally see from the Nova Scotia election. Mr. Houston’s authentic PCs (not at all like Doug Ford’s “Ontario PCs”) just might convince some progressive voters to strategically vote Liberal rather than NDP federally, to make absolutely certain there is no prospect of any kind of Conservative government in Ottawa until, say another 20 years after the last one (or at least as in 1896–1913, 1921–1931, 1935–1957, 1963–1984, 1993–2006, 2015–????) … etc, etc … Meanwhile, the Nova Scotia election last night was more interesting than we thought it would be. And it makes the federal “snap election” on September 20 seem a little more interesting too.

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