Election Preview: Nova Scotia (Canada) 2009

The Canadian province of Nova Scotia goes to the polls on June 9, a bit less than three years after the last election in 2006.

The current Premier of Nova Scotia is Rodney MacDonald, Progressive Conservative (PC). MacDonald became Premier (and leader of the PCs) shortly before the snap 2006 election in replacement of John Hamm, first elected in 1999. The opposition defeated the government on a money bill, sparking a snap election which doesn’t really surprise anyone.

Nova Scotia, a Atlantic province, was one of the founding members of Confederation, but also probably the most Confederation-sceptic. The Anti-Confederation caucus in Nova Scotia, led by Joseph Howe, a Reformer provincially, won all but one of Nova Scotia’s 19 seats in the first federal Parliament and won all but two of the 38 seats in the House of Assembly. Anti-Confederationism remained an important issue (in fact, a 1868 motion which refused to recognize the legitimacy of Confederation has never been rescinded), Joseph Howe coming around to the idea of Confederation. The Liberals, who had a larger base amongst the province’s farmers and fishermen, dominated until the pro-Confederation Conservatives (supported by United Empire Loyalists and the wealthy business milieus) won the 1878 elections but was defeated by the Liberals in 1882. In 1886, William Fielding won the election for the Liberals on a pledge to remove Nova Scotia from Confederation. Fielding’s pledge was never carried out and the Liberals turned to economic development (including railroad construction, roadbuilding, and development of the coal industry on Cape Breton Island). In 1906, the Liberal instituted prohibition, though the Liberals also gave women the vote and passed a number of progressive labour legislation. Fielding moved on to federal politics in 1896 and George Henry Murray became Premier, a title he held for 27 years (the longest unbroken tenure for a head of government anywhere in Canada). In 1920, the left-wing opposition led by the United Farmers and the Labour Party won 6 and 5 seats respectively. However, the United Farmers movement was quickly destroyed due to the Liberals bribing the party’s leadership or passing legislation which redistributed the provincial surplus to the MLAs (now there’s a grand idea!). Murray retired in favour of Ernest Howard Armstrong in 1925. However, Nova Scotia (and the Maritimes) had suffered an economic downturn and the Maritime Rights Movement gathered strength throughout the region. Running on a Maritime Rights platform, the Tories won 40 out of 43 seats in the 1925 election. The Conservatives curtailed federal influence on the province and introduced old age pensions, but also solved labour disputes with miners in Cape Breton Island. After winning a narrow re-election 1928, the Conservatives were victims of the Great Depression in the 1933 election. Hurt by the the depression, which had contributed into turning Nova Scotia from the country’s richest province per capita in 1867 to the poorest by the 1930s, the Conservatives were defeated by the new Liberal leader, Angus L. Macdonald. Macdonald held office between 1933 and 1940 and 1945 and 1954. Macdonald’s long tenure saw the development of roads, infrastructures, quality education and electricity in the province. In 1945, the Progressive Conservatives were wiped out, with the Co-Operative Commonwealth Federation (CCF), based in mining communities on Cape Breton Island winning two seats (the Liberals won 28). However, in 1948, Robert L. Stanfield, a “Red Tory” (in fact, a socialist in university and a life-long progressive) won the leadership of the PC Party. Since then, the PC has been of mostly moderate-to-Red Tory stock. The Liberals, divided since Macdonald’s retirement in 1954 along religious lines, lost to the 1956 election to Stanfield’s PC. Stanfield became leader of the federal PC in 1967, and the Liberals won the 1970 election. Due in part to the oil shock, the Liberals lost the 1978 election to the Conservatives. The PC lost the 1993 election to the Liberals in a landslide, thanks to disenchantment with the PC and a number of corruption scandals. John Savage, a fiscal conservative, became Premier, but was dumped by his party in favour of Russell MacLellan in 1997. In the 1998 election, the NDP (until then a fringe party limited to either Halifax Regional Municipality or Cape Breton Island) broke through and won 19 seats, tied with the Liberals. The PCs, with 14 MLAs, propped up the Liberal government until they defeated the government in 1999. In 1999, the PCs under the “shy MLA” John Hamm won a majority government, though this PC majority became a minority in 2003 and stayed one in 2006. As mentioned above, Rodney MacDonald, a Catholic from Cape Breton, became the PC leader and Premier before the 2006 snap election.

In 2006, the Conservatives lost four seats to the NDP (which also gained one seat from the Liberals) but due to MacDonald’s Catholicism, the PC took two Liberal seats on Cape Breton Islands. The Liberals won only 9 seats in 2006. Here are the full results:

Progressive Conservative 39.57% (+3.33%) winning 23 seats (-2)
NDP 34.63% (+3.52%) winning 20 seats (+5)
Liberal 23.44% (-7.99%) winning 9 seats (-3)
Green 2.33% (new)

The NDP has gathered significant strength in Nova Scotia since the late ’90’s. Throughout most of the post-war era, the NDP or its predecessor, the CCF, was either shut out or limited to a few seats. Until 1981, the CCF-NDP held all of its seats on Cape Breton Island. However, the university-urban wing of the party won out in the ’80’s when Alexa McDonough, a Haligonian, became leader. In 1981, the party won no seats on Cape Breton Island and only one seat in the province as a whole. McDonough became leader of the federal NDP in 1995.

Nova Scotia 2006

The NDP dominates in and around the HRM (Halifax Regional Municipality). It holds most seats in Halifax proper and dominates in more industrial Dartmouth and Cole Harbour. The Liberal holdouts have in common either Catholicism (Cape Breton is Catholic majority), or minority population (either Acadians or black). However, their one remaining Haligonian seat is a wealthy university constituency.

Polls have indicated that the NDP is running ahead of the PC, and the latest poll even has the PC in a close third behind the Liberals, who seem to have returned to their traditional ’90’s level of support (which is low 30s or so). The PC campaign theme seems to be the economy, but also attacking a so-called “risky NDP”. The Liberals have vowed to cut taxes (like the PC), but their website offers little to no policy details. For completion’s sake, I note that the Liberal Party of Nova Scotia are affiliated to the federal Liberals.


Posted on May 10, 2009, in Canada, Election Preview, Nova Scotia. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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