Tuesday, June 9, 2009

NDP Comes to Power in Nova Scotia

Voters in Nova Scotia have elected the province's first ever NDP government tonight.

After a decade of Conservative rule, the NDP won 31 of 52 seats for a majority government. The Liberals won 11 seats and the Tories were reduced to third place with 10 seats. Darrell Dexter, who has been Nova Scotia's NDP leader since 2001, will become Nova Scotia's 26th Premier.

He succeeds Rodney MacDonald who became Premier in 2006 after the retirement of John Hamm. MacDonald promptly called an election and although the Tories were re-elected they were returned with a minority government.

Last month, MacDonald wanted to put $260 million aside to pay down the province's debt but the NDP and Liberals wanted to spend the money (surprise, surprise) so they engineered a vote of non-confidence and forced an election.

But MacDonald did not run a good campaign. Although the Tories exposed $45,000 in questionable union donations to the NDP which the party was later forced to return he would liken Dexter to a car thief over the matter. It's not the sort of thing that goes over well in Nova Scotia.

All things considered Prime Minister Stephen Harper is probably glad that MacDonald got beat tonight. Although both men are Tories there is no love lost between the two. MacDonald and Harper clashed over offshore resource revenues and federal transfer payments to poorer "have not provinces" (which Nova Scotia is) back in 2007. Harper will probably enjoy a more cordial relationship with Dexter than he did with MacDonald.

The NDP victory has been more than a decade in the making. In the 1980s and 1990s, the Nova Scotia NDP was led by Alexa McDonough. More often than not she was the lone member of the NDP in the Nova Scotia legislature. She would resign from this post 1994 to run for the federal NDP leadership the following year. It was a campaign in which I would be extensively involved. Much to the surprise of everyone she won the NDP leadership and gave the NDP in Nova Scotia and in Atlantic Canada a much higher profile.

In the 1997 federal election, the NDP won 21 seats in the House of Commons, eight of which came from Atlantic Canada. That was a breakthrough. The enthusiasm for the NDP would carry over the following year when the NDP came within a heartbeat of supplanting the Liberals and forming its first government in Nova Scotia under the stewardship of a charismatic young leader named Robert Chisholm. The NDP would become the official opposition in Nova Scotia for the very first time.

Chisholm was as telegenic a politician as I've ever seen. Women literally swooned over him.

But when Nova Scotians went to the polls again the following year they opted for the Conservatives. During the campaign it was revealed that Chisholm had a drunk driving conviction which he had not disclosed. The revelation was enough for him to resign as party leader following the election that saw the NDP lose eight seats.

Chisholm would be succeeded by Helen MacDonald but when she failed to capture a seat in the provincial legislature she too would resign and would be succeeded by Dexter. While Dexter didn't have Chisholm's physical attributes he would prove to have more staying power. Although the Conservatives would win both the 2003 and 2006 elections, the NDP exceeded expectations in both elections. Today, Dexter met expectations of Nova Scotians and he has been entrusted to govern them.

But heaven help the politician who comes to power in dire economic times especially a poltician who carries NDP/socialist/social democratic banner (however you want to call it.) Just ask Bob Rae (even though he is now a Liberal.) The same could eventually be said of President Obama. Dexter will probably try to spend his way out of the recession. But when that strategy doesn't bear fruit he will have to raise taxes that will anger his constituents and cut programs that will raise the ire of his supporters.

The distance between the opposition and government benches in the legislature might be only a few feet away but in reality they are worlds apart. With that I wish Dexter and his NDP government good luck because they will surely need it. So will my younger brother who is moving there to start law school in the fall.

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