Wednesday, October 9, 2013

#OrangeCrushed - Nova Scotia Election Results

 As predicted by pretty much everyone, the Nova Scotia New Democrats went down to heavy defeat in that province's election today, though the extent of the fall was probably a tad bigger than thought.

After four years in power, Atlantic Canada's first NDP government, led by Darrell Dexter, had definitely worn out its welcome. The causes are varied, ranging from the raising of the HST; the expenses scandal; the issue with Nova Scotia power; and very simply a province that, while not in free fall, didn't exactly leap ahead of the pack either. Premier Dexter and his cabinet went from blunder to blunder, costing them support with bad decisions in places like Yarmouth, throwing eggs on their faces with their bungling of the Rehtaeh Parsons case, giving the impression of wasting taxpayer's money on corporate welfare (no matter how much it may have been needed), and simply not living up to the lofty expectations that unexperienced NDP government like to paint themselves with. By the time the campaign rolled around, Dexter was among the most unpopular premiers in the country, just beaten out by Kathy Dunderdale, and it seems for good reason. He and his party were clearly not ready for prime time.

What I'm trying to say here is that the NDP essentially doomed themselves, as we'll see in a second with the results. Their main opposition, the Liberals, took easy advantage of the NDP's self-inflicted wounds by playing up the angle of a tried-and-tested party that knows how to govern, and is a lot more trustworthy than the current lot in charge of the Legislature. Not being associated with the also unpopular Tory governments of Hamm and MacDonald also helped the Liberals, who in their luck haven't been in power for a decade and a half, and thus their past blunders pushed out of most people's consciousness. Really, had the NDP only faced a challenge from the PCs, they may have survived - unfortunately they were stuck facing a reinvigorated Liberal Party.

But lets drill down into the results so far. There are still some ridings that may be up in the air due to close races (Cole Harbour-Portland Valley), but overall these are the final numbers and shouldn't change too much.

Lets start with the smaller regions first.

Cape Breton lost a seat in the redistribution, that being the riding of Cape Breton South held by Liberal MLA Manning MacDonald, who chose not the run again. That riding was redistributed between two PC-held ridings, Northside-Westmount and Sydney River-Mira-Louisbourg, which were both retained by that party. The NDP also retained their two core ridings in Sydney-Whitney Pier and Cape Breton Centre, though both ended up being much closer races than I think either of their incumbents - one being Deputy Premier Frank Corbett - wanted. They prevailed, however, fighting back a Liberal tide.

The Liberals didn't come away empty handed of course. Both Michel Samson and Geoff MacLellan held their ridings in Cape Breton-Richmond and Glace Bay, and it seems likely that Pam Eyking won the district of Victoria-The Lakes from PC incumbent Keith Bains for the Liberals. Overall, however, despite a 17.7% swing to the Liberals, mostly at the expense of the NDP, Cape Breton didn't see a lot of change, a testament to the power of incumbency on this unique island.

 The ridings in East Nova, which cover federal Justice Minister Peter MacKay's riding of Central Nova so you could call it that as well, saw the smallest swing towards the Liberals of any of the regions in the province. Just a paltry 11.5% is all! That was enough to bring the two ridings of Antigonish and Guysborough-Eastern Shore-Tracadie into their column with a rather large swing in both.

Where the Liberals faltered was in the three ridings that cover Pictou. There the Liberals remained in third in all three ridings, and didn't even really compete. Instead, those three ridings (which were won by the NDP in 2009) all swung heavy to the Progressive Conservatives. Justice Minister Ross Landry was the biggest casualty of the night here, though Natural Resources Minister Charlie Parker also went down to defeat.

Thus we end up with the odd situation of the NDP having no representation in a region where they came in second. This kind of result goes a long way to explaining why the party failed to keep ahead of the PCs in the seat count, despite winning more votes.

 The ridings which border Fundy Bay and the northern reaches of the province were an interesting place tonight. The home base of PC Leader Jaimie Baillie, who won his seat of Cumberland South, is arguably the most "conservative" area of the province. Despite this, the Liberals saw a massive 25-point swing to them, both from the NDP and from the PCs.

Part of the reason for the swing was the presence of Karen Casey, a former PC MLA and interim leader before Baillie who crossed the floor to the Liberals after Jaimie's leadership win. Casey managed to easily retain her seat with close to 61% of the vote, an amazing feat when considering the Liberal candidate in 2009 in her riding couldn't manage even 20% of the vote. This isn't a Liberal friendly area, so a great incumbent like Casey helped out.

That wasn't the only win for the Liberals however, as they saw a big swing towards them in Cumberland North, a riding which the NDP had won in 2009 on the back of a vote split between the PCs and an independent candidate, himself the former PC MLA for the riding. No vote split this time, yet the Liberals still won. The Liberals also saw a massive swing in Hant East, taking out NDP MLA John MacDonell, who had won that riding in 2009 with over 60% of the vote. This time the Liberal candidate Margaret Miller, a former president of MADD, won with 46.6% to MacDonell's 35.8%.

The PCs picked up Colchester-Musquodoboit Valley from the NDP, which wasn't surprising at all. What was the surprise was the NDP holding on to Truro-Bible Hill. incumbent MLA Lenore Zann held off strong challenges from both the PC and Liberal candidates to keep her riding, a testament to her strength as a local personality.

Moving west, the Liberals retained their control over the Annapolis Valley region, the home base of Liberal Leader and now Premier Stephen McNeil who easily, along with other local Liberals, won their seats. Long-time MLAs Gordon Wilson and Leo Glavine easily retained their seats, though their fellow Wayne Gaudet had his seat redistributed out of existence. Yarmouth MLA Zach Churchill also kept the riding he stole from the PCs in a by-election with a huge 82% of the vote.

Amusingly, Liberal candidate Keith Irving unseated NDP MLA Ramona Jennex in Kings South, though the race was pretty close, 39.3% to 35.6%. If you remember, Irving was the one slandered by Saskatchewan Young New Democrats president Nathaniel Cole earlier in the campaign as an "outspoken homophone," something with any basis in reality or fact. Much like most Young New Democrat ideas.

The PCs didn't do too badly either, despite losing out on Yarmouth. Incumbents Chris d'Entremont and Chuck Porter kept their ridings in Argyle-Barrington and Hants West, and assuming there isn't a recount (or if there is, his win holds up), John Lohr will be joining the PC caucus as the member for Kings North.

 The South Shore region was probably the NDP's best area last night, retaining two of their four incumbents and surviving a 15-point to the Liberals. Though the party lost both Lunenburg seats to the Liberals, incumbent NDP MLAs Sterling Belliveau and Denise Paterson-Rafuse held on with slim margins in Queens-Shelburne and Chester-St. Margaret's. Despite a three-way race in the region, the PCs missed out on taking any of the seats.

 Finally, we come to Halifax, and the reason why the New Democrats failed as spectacularly as they did.

Metro Halifax was the region with the biggest swing away from the New Democrats - 23.2% - which is huge considering that the city is their base. A number of long-held ridings fell, including Cole Harbour-Portland Valley, Dexter's own seat, though that wasn't even the worst of it. Lets check out the sub-regions.

First up is the core of Halifax, or all those ridings starting with "Halifax." All five  were held by the NDP in 2009, yet only one - Halifax Needham, held just barely by former Health Minister Maureen MacDonald - survived the Liberal onslaught. Halifax Chebucto, held by the NDP for all but one term since 1981, also Alexa McDonough's former seat, was won with 50.8% by Liberal candidate Joachim Stroink. Former Finance Minister Graham Steele's redistributed seat of Halifax Armdale was also lost to the Liberals. This was, very simply, a slaughter.

Yet an even worse slaughter occurred in the Halifax suburbs, which stretch from Fairview to Sackville to  Bedford, and including all of the more rurban ridings like Timberlea-Prospect Waverley-Fall River-Beaver Bank as well. Here, the NDP saw an even greater drop in support than in the Halifax Core area, with just under half of the NDP voters in 2009 abandoning the party, or 24.9% among overall popular support. The NDP lost all ridings in this area except for Sackville-Cobequid, where incumbent MLA Dave Wilson held off a strong Liberal challenge. Cabinet member Percy Paris was not just defeated in his Waverley riding, he ended up a poor third behind the Liberal and PC candidates.

 Finally in Dartmouth, the damage was not quite as bad, though that is just in terms of the swing. The NDP actually lost all four of their incumbent ridings, including as previously mentioned, Darrell Dexter's. Xerox executive Tony Ince took the Premier's riding in a squeaker, and its possible there could still be a recount - that of course depends whether or not Dexter wants to even bother at this point!

The Liberals took out fellow Cole Harbour-Eastern Passage MLA Becky Kent along with Dexter. Former Labour and Education Minister Marilyn More's riding of Darmouth South also fell to the Liberals, though she - like many of her cabinet colleagues - didn't have to suffer the humiliation of defeat. The Liberals also took former MLA Trevor Zinck's riding of Dartmouth North. Winning candidate Joanne Bernard becomes the first openly LGBT member of Nova Scotia's provincial legislature, something I didn't realize - great news!

Anyways, that wraps up the results. As I said at the beginning of the post, it seems pretty clear that this election was a lot more about how much people disliked the NDP versus how much they approved of the Liberals or PCs. Yes, McNeil had better numbers on almost every count than Dexter - but you could compare nearly anyone to that guy and Nova Scotians will still probably dislike Dexter more. The NDP have no one to blame except themselves, unfortunately.

The question now becomes where each of the parties go from here. For the Liberals, its time to choose a new cabinet and set a governing agenda. McNeil says his focus will be on cutting out bureaucracy in the healthcare system, destroying Nova Scotia Power's monopoly and reversing cuts made to education. But what else we can expect from the McNeil government? How will they respond to the Harper government's EI cuts? Can this relatively inexperienced crew keep the province running smoothly? Can they handle any scandals that are sure to crop up in their time? All questions that remain to be answered.

For the Progressive Conservatives, their results are good but not "great." Their biggest coup of the night was grabbing Pictou away from the NDP, and was really what helped vault them into the Official Opposition. Yet Jaimie Baillie's team shouldn't necessarily start celebrating - they ended up being the NDP in popular support, and they didn't keep the Liberals from overwhelming formerly traditional PC areas, such as in East Nova or the South Shore. Hell, they couldn't even keep the Liberals out of the Northeast. The PCs are still a weak party, and Baillie is still a rookie leader. But to point out, this is the exact same situation Stephen McNeil and the Liberals were in after 2009. The PCs are in a great position to take advantage of any falter in Liberal fortunes, though how long that will take remains to be seen.

Finally, the NDP have a couple of very long roads to walk. Their first government ended in disaster, and the reasons why it all fell apart are going to take a very long time to divine. Was it just Dexter? Or was there something fundamentally wrong with the way the NS NDP approached governing? After all, instead of being a reformist government, Dexter's played it cautious - should the NDP become more activist? Maybe they require fresh leadership, or a pair of old hands. Whatever happens though, just know that you can't rush the rebuilding - its going to take a long time, just ask the Liberals.


  1. Nova Scotia had the HST long before the NDP.

    1. Yeah, I mixed that up; I meant to say raising the GST! Fixed.

  2. Sackville has been held by the NDP since 1984

  3. The NDP failed for a simple reason. I lived in the Atlantic and saw this myself.

    People on the East Coast - where there have not been any previous NDP governments - always thought of politics in this way.

    Team Blue, with some great ideas, people, and experience
    Team Red, with some great ideas, people, and experience
    The NDP, a bunch of silly rookie honest genuine folks

    The NS NDP failed because they had at least 1 scandal. People voted for them, in part, because they thought that they were true and honest and would not be like every other government. Even if this is just a small portion of the population, it's enough to get them over the hump when they win, and, defeat them when they lose.

    1. I've done some math, and if my math is right, exactly 6.7% of voters, from all across the province, switched from NDP to Liberal for this reason.

      30% of NDP voters (remaining) then also switched to the Liberals for more standard reasons.