What Does Nova Scotia’s Vote Say About The Federal Election?

It did not take a big movement in votes for the Progressive Conservatives to leap from the 17 seats out of 51 in 2017 to 31 seats out of 55 on Tuesday.

Their vote share increased by 3.0% to 38.7% while the Liberals fell 2.8% to 36.7%, dropping to 17 seats from 27.

The NDP looked to be scoring gains early in the evening but ended up with a slightly smaller vote share and six seats, one less than 2017.

Polls had shown a Liberal lead of 19% in early March dwindling to less than 4% in the days just before the election. Given the small sample sizes, the result was well within the margin of error.

Campaigns matter. As long ago as the beginning of March, PC leader Tim Houston chose a singular focus on health care, using the intermission between Premiers McNeil and Rankin as an opportunity to get some attention. He hammered away at it while providing a detailed program for doing things differently.

That and the details of his proposals persuaded voters that there was deep interest and commitment to the topic. Meanwhile by the time the election came along, Premier Rankin had already announced almost everything the Liberals were offering. That and some campaign blunders meant that he received frequent negative attention.

The PC’s also got help from two unexpected sources.

Sipekne’katik First Nation Chief Michael Sack makes a point of ignoring federal jurisdiction over fisheries. He says his band will regulate their own lobster catches. This has been badly handled by the federal Liberals, most particularly by Bernadette Jordan who is Minister of Fisheries and MP for South Shore St. Margarets.

The non-indigenous fishers and their communities are understandably upset, more at the Minister than the indigenous fishers. When Justin Trudeau first came on the scene he was a fresh face and a positive factor for Liberals everywhere. His numerous miscues since then have made him a liability for the party both federally and provincially.

Sack started a new provocation just days before the vote, sending out 15-20 boats out of season and with no federal tags. It is not coincidental that there were disastrous results for the provincial Liberals on the south shore and almost toppled supposedly safe Liberal seats in Yarmouth and Clare. It may also have hurt them in other seats where fishing is important.

Just a week before the vote, Ross O’Brien, who lives roughly five kilometres from Dartmouth General Hospital, fell and injured his hip. An ambulance was called but the nearest available one was in Parrsboro. It arrived after more than three hours.

Similarly in September, Kelly MacPhee of Halifax who lived 6 minutes from a hospital died of a heart attack while waiting for an ambulance. It came from Mahone Bay and took 40 mins to arrive.

Meanwhile ambulances still idle at hospitals for hours until the patients can be admitted. A solution to that was promised two years ago. The ambulance stories shone a bright light on the poor management of the system.

The vote shift between the two elections was just 3%. Arguably the continuing fisheries dispute and ambulance problems were a material influence on that change.

We are already more than a week into the short federal election campaign. Like Rankin, Trudeau’s sole reason for calling it was for his convenience.

All the political operatives will be tired, but the PCs are likely to have more spring in their step. They have every reason to be optimistic about toppling Jordan and may hope for a surprise or two elsewhere in the province. Having captured all three Halifax peninsula seats, the NDP will have their sights set on defeating Andy Fillmore.

Across the country, polls showed the Liberals leading by almost 8% at the beginning of July. That has dropped to 4.2%% as of August 18th. Might a similar scenario develop?

Like Rankin, Trudeau has already announced his program, promising spending on almost every possible cause. Can he have anything new to say? And if he does will it be helpful? Polls suggest that Trudeau is not an asset at the ballot box.

Yet the Liberals are still most likely to win the most seats. Conservative leader O’Toole has distanced himself from the social conservative wing of the party but, unlike Houston, has not staked his campaign on an issue likely to galvanize voters. His best hope is that a couple of unexpected events remind voters why they are not keen on Trudeau.


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