2009 Nova Scotia General Election

Feature by Jay Makarenko || May 20, 2009

On June 9, 2009, Nova Scotians elected the New Democratic Party government and Darrell Dexter their premier. The NDP win had historical significance. Not only did it bring to an end ten years of rule by the Progressive Conservative Party, but was also the first time an NDP premier had been elected in Atlantic Canada. The 2009 election campaign was dominated by economic and financial issues as the province attempts to deal with the global economic slowdown, rising unemployment, and possible government deficits. This article provides background information on the 2009 general election and includes the results of the previous election, party standings prior to dissolution of the legislature, pre-election polls, leader biographies, the platforms of the major political parties, overview of key election issues, and the results of the 2009 general election.

Nova Scotia Election Backgrounder

Previous elections, party standings, pre-election polls

Nova Scotia 2009 Party Platforms

Overview of party platforms in the 2009 election

Key Issues in the 2009 Nova Scotia Election

Summary of key issues in the provincial election

Results of the 2009 Nova Scotia General Election

New Democrats win a majority government

Sources and Links to More Information

List of article sources and links to more on this topic

Nova Scotia Election Backgrounder

Previous elections, party standings, pre-election polls

2006 General Election Results

The last Nova Scotia general election was held in 2006, and concluded with Rodney MacDonald and the provincial Progressive Conservative Party winning a minority government. The New Democratic Party, helmed by Darrell Dexter, won the second largest number of seats, forming the Official Opposition.

Below are each party’s total seat counts and popular vote tallies for the 2006 general election:

Results of the 2006 Nova Scotia General Election

Political Party

% Vote

Seats

Status

Progressive Conservative Party

39.6

23

Minority Government

New Democratic Party

34.6

20

Opposition

Liberal Party

23.4

9

-

For more information on the 2006 Nova Scotia general election:

Party Standings Prior to the 2009 General Election

Prior to the dissolution of the legislature, party standings in provincial legislature were as follows:

Political Party

Seats

Status

Progressive Conservative Party

21

Minority Government

New Democratic Party

20

Opposition

Liberal Party

09

-

Independent

01

-

Vacant

01

-

During the session, a number of developments occurred to alter the seat distribution in the legislature:

  • In 2006, Ernest Fage, the Member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA) for Cumberland North, was dismissed from the Progressive Conservative caucus following criminal allegations stemming from a motor vehicle accident. As a result, Fage sat in the provincial legislature as an Independent MLA.
  • In 2007, a provincial by-election was held in the riding of Cole Harbour-Eastern Passage. New Democratic MLA Kevin Deveaux had won the riding in the 2006 general election, but had subsequently resigned his position following an appointment to the United Nations Development Programme. In the subsequent by-election, the New Democratic Party retained the riding, with Becky Kent winning 44.4 percent of the vote.
  • In March 2009, Progressive Conservative MLA Michael Baker died after a lengthy battle with cancer. No by-election was held prior to the election, leaving the seat for the riding of Lunenburg vacant.

New Liberal Party Leader

Francis MacKenzie had led the Nova Scotia Liberal Party between 2004 and 2006. In the 2006 general election, the Liberals had their worst showing in the party’s history, winning only nine seats. Following the election, MacKenzie resigned as party leader. In the subsequent 2007 leadership contest, Stephen McNeil was selected as the new Liberal leader. While McNeil has been an MLA since 2003, the 2009 election will be his first as leader.

Fall of the Progressive Conservative Minority Government

The 2009 general election was triggered by the defeat of the Progressive Conservative minority government. As the governing Progressive Conservatives did not enjoy a majority in the provincial legislature, they depended upon the opposition parties to pass government legislation. Moreover, under the province’s parliamentary system of government, any defeat of a government money bill usually means the government has been defeated and must call an election.

On May 4, 2009, the New Democratic and Liberal opposition parties voted down a government spending bill, setting the stage for a general election. In its spending bill the governing Progressive Conservatives committed to using monies set aside for paying down the debt to cover shortfalls in the 2008-09 budget, and to pay for education and infrastructure projects announced in the proposed 2008-09 budget. The opposition parties voted against the bill on the grounds that the legislation would have required changing the Provincial Finance Act, which requires governments to make regular payments on the debt in each annual budget. The Progressive Conservatives, by contrast, argued that its proposed course of action was necessary to help finance their proposed economic stimulus package.

Pre-Election Public Opinion Polls

Public opinion polling prior to the election has shown an early lead for the Nova Scotia New Democratic Party. A Corporate Research Associates poll conducted in February 2009 placed the NDP at 36 percent support, the Liberal Party at 31 percent, and the incumbent Progressive Conservatives at 30 percent. The poll also suggested that while NDP support has remained stable, the Progressive Conservatives have been losing support to the Liberal Party. Between November 2008 and February 2009 the Liberals had increased their support by 4 percent, while the Progressive Conservatives had dropped 3 points.

For more information public opinion polls for the 2009 BC general election:

Nova Scotia 2009 Party Platforms

Overview of party platforms in 2009 Election

Nova Scotia Progressive Conservative Party

The incumbent Nova Scotia Progressive Conservative Party is a moderate right-of-centre political party. The modern version of the party has its roots in the Red Tory movement of post-World War II, which supported traditional institutions such as religion and the monarchy, a maintenance of the social order, and an interventionist state that would provide robust public services. Over time, the party has evolved into a modern strain of conservatism, which emphasizes less government and values entrepreneurship, self-reliance, and fiscal responsibility (Progressive Conservative Party of Nova Scotia, 2009).

Since the 1950s, the Progressive Conservatives have been the dominant political party on the Nova Scotia provincial scene. Between 1956 and 2009 the Progressive Conservatives governed for almost 40 years.

Rodney MacDonald is the leader of the Progressive Conservative Party and, orior to the election, the Premier of Nova Scotia. MacDonald’s political career began in 1999 when he was elected as Progressive Conservative MLA for the riding of Inverness. In 2006, he successfully won the leadership of the party and the premiership of the province (the Progressive Conservatives were in power at the time of MacDonald’s selection as leader). MacDonald won a minority government in the 2006 Nova Scotia general election.

At the time of this article, the Progressive Conservatives had not released a full election platform document. Prior to the legislature’s dissolution, however, the party , had released several government policy statements. In March 2009, for example, they outlined their strategy for dealing with the current economic slowdown in a document entitled Building for Growth: Nova Scotia’s Economic Stimulus Plan. In the plan, the Progressive Conservatives committed to spending $1.9 billion between 2009 and 2012, with the goal of stimulating the economy and creating or maintaining approximately 20,000 jobs. Spending priorities identified included energy conservation, transportation infrastructure, schools and information technology, community services, and tourism, culture and heritage. The Progressive Conservatives also pledged to maintain fiscal stability by continuing to maintain balanced budgets and an affordable provincial debt.

In the early days of the campaign, the party has also emphasized its recent 2009-10 provincial budget (which failed to be approved in the legislature prior to the election call). In its budget, the government estimated a small surplus of $4 million. In addition to the economic stimulus plan highlighted earlier, the Progressive Conservatives committed to spending $155 million as part of a Poverty Reduction Strategy, created to improve the standard of living for those with low incomes. The government highlighted that its plans also include introducing a tuition freeze for university students; shortening waiting times for health care through capital and information technology spending projects; lowering taxes through new tax credit programs; and reducing the corporate tax rate.

Nova Scotia New Democratic Party

The Nova Scotia New Democratic Party is a moderate left-of-centre political party. The party’s modern incarnation was founded in 1961 and is based on social democratic views, such as the promotion of social equality through an interventionist state and strong public services (including public health care delivery, education, and other social assistance programs).

Throughout the 1960s, 70s, and 80s, the party had very little electoral success. In the late 1990s, however, the party achieved a major breakthrough, winning 19 seats and Official Opposition status in the 1998 provincial election. The party was subsequently reduced to 11 seats in the 1999 election, but subsequently won 15 and 20 seats in respective 2003 and 2006 contests.

Darrell Dexter is the leader of the New Democratic Party. He was first elected to provincial legislature in 1998 as the MLA for the riding of Cole Harbour. He subsequently became party leader in 2001.

The New Democratic Party has outlined its election platform in a short document entitled Better Deal 2009: The NDP Plan to Make Life Better for Today’s Families. The document outlines seven key commitments:

  • Create the secure jobs Nova Scotia’s economy needs
  • Keep emergency rooms open and reduce health care waits
  • Ensure more young people stay and build a life in Nova Scotia
  • Take the Harmonized Sales Tax (HST) off home energy
  • Fix rural roads and keep communities strong
  • Give seniors options to stay in their homes and communities longer
  • Live within the province’s means

In regard to the economy, the party has pledged to stimulate growth in the province by maximizing federal funds for infrastructure programs, and through a number of tax incentives, such as a 10 percent Manufacturing and Processing Investment Tax Credit, a one-year 50 percent HST rebate program for new home construction, and an increase in the Equity Tax Credit to promote investment in communities.

In the area of government finances, the NDP has committed to balancing the provincial budget. In addition, the party promises to undertake an immediate audit to determine the state of provincial finances, and to implementing an expenditure management review with the goal of achieving up to one percent savings in the budget.

In social policy, the party has promised to reduce health care waiting times by hiring more doctors, opening more hospital beds, and setting up ‘Pre-Hab teams’ to reduce waits for surgery. The NDP has also pledged to create 250 new community college seats and introduce tax incentives to keep university and college graduates in Nova Scotia. Other key social initiatives include creating 250 subsidized child care spaces, and introducing initiatives to promote in-home care for seniors.

Nova Scotia Liberal Party

The Liberal Party of Nova Scotia is a centrist political party. The party originates from the pre-Confederation Reformers in Nova Scotia who fought for democratic reform in the colony and the introduction of responsible government. Prior to 1956, the Liberals were the dominant political party in Nova Scotia; between 1867 and 1956 the Liberals governed for a total of 76 years. Since that time, however, the party only formed government for select periods in the 1970s and 90s.

Stephen McNeil is the leader of the Liberal Party. He has been an MLA in the provincial legislature since 2003, and party leader since 2007.

At the time of this article, the Liberal Party had not published a formal election platform document. The party and its leader, however, had previously outlined publicly a number of election promises in the media and on their website. Key commitments include:

  • Aid to small businesses, including a tax cut from 5 to 1 percent and a micro-lending program to allow better access to credit.
  • Building a provincial energy corridor to ensure energy security and stability. This includes building transmission infrastructure to tap into new renewable energy options, such as the Fundy Tidal and Lower Churchill Falls projects.
  • Introducing a School Grants Program intended to provide local schools with the flexibility to invest in their own specific requirements.
  • Ensuring a family doctor for every Nova Scotia family by designating 20 seats at the Dalhousie Medical School for the next five years for doctors willing to work in under-serviced parts of the province.
  • Improving government accountability by introducing fixed sessions of the provincial legislature anda fixed date for the government’s budget; requiring the provincial Auditor General to audit the provincial finances prior to an election; reducing fees for Freedom of Information requests; and creating an All-Party Committee on House of Assembly Reform and Renewal to consult the public and recommend changes to the practices of the provincial legislature.

Key Issues in the 2009 Nova Scotia Election

Summary of key issues in the provincial election

Minority or Majority Government

A key issue in the 2009 general election will be whether voters elect a minority or majority government. Since 2003, the province has been governed by two consecutive Progressive Conservative minority governments. Functioning as a minority government, the Progressive Conservatives have been forced to win over the support of at least one of the opposition parties to pass legislation (the government needs the support of a majority of MLAs in the House of Assembly to govern).

Over this period, the Progressive Conservatives have been relatively successful in striking deals to maintain opposition party support. Towards the end of the last government, however, compromise between the Progressive Conservatives and the opposition parties became much more difficult to achieve. This was especially evident in the defeat of the Progressive Conservative government in early May 2009, when both the New Democrats and the Liberals voted against a government spending bill, thus triggering the general election.

Pre-election polling conducted in February 2009 suggests that no single party may have sufficient support to form a majority in the provincial legislature. As such, there’s a significant possibility that a third consecutive minority government may result. Given apparent polling trends, there is also a strong chance the Progressive Conservatives may not win the most seats this time around, meaning one of the other parties may form government.

For some observers, another minority government scenario is ideal, as it requires the parties to cooperate and compromise on key issues. Others, however, regard minority governments as inefficient and highly unstable.

For more information on the advantages and disadvantages of minority governments in Canada:

Provincial Economy and Finances

One of the most significant policy issues in the 2009 election will be the economy. Like other Canadian jurisdictions, Nova Scotia is dealing with a general economic slowdown and rising unemployment. Moreover, these economic factors will place considerable pressure on government finances as the government faces declining revenues coupled with economic stimulus in the form tax reductions and increased spending.

In this context, each party will attempt to portray itself as the better option to lead the province through the economic slowdown, though with differing approaches. The incumbent Progressive Conservatives, for example, will stress the need for stability and experience in government and, as such, will argue that a vote for the opposition parties is a risky proposition. In contrast, the NDP and Liberals will attempt to link the Progressive Conservatives to the current economic and fiscal difficulties by painting them as bad managers. Additionally, both parties will argue that the current situation requires change rather than the status quo and, hence, the election of a new party as government.

The defeat of the Progressive Conservative government set the stage for this focus on economic and fiscal issues. The Progressive Conservatives had attempted to use money set aside for paying down the debt to cover shortfalls in the 2008-09 budget and to pay for part of its proposed 2009-10 economic stimulus package. Following the defeat of the spending bill by the Liberals and NDP, the Progressive Conservatives accused the opposition parties of being more interested in an election than attending to important economic and fiscal issues (CBC, May 4 2009). In contrast, the Liberals and NDP accused the Progressive Conservatives of economic and fiscal mismanagement (Jackson & Smith, 2009).

Potential Shift in the Provincial Party Landscape

Since the 1950s, the Progressive Conservative Party has dominated the provincial political landscape. In pre-election public opinion polling, however, the party trailed not only the NDP, it’s traditional rival, but also the Liberals, which had been relegated to minor third-party status for an extended period in Nova Scotia’s history. This all being considered,
the 2009 election could represent a significant reshaping of Nova Scotia politics. At the minimum, it could simply represent a short-term trend towards a competitive three-party system in which the Progressive Conservatives, NDP, and Liberals enjoy similar levels of electoral support. At the other extreme, it could suggest a shift to the left (with the election of the NDP to government) and/or the unseating of the Progressive Conservatives by the Liberals as the preferred right-of-centre option.

These trends in public opinion, furthermore, place the incumbent Progressive Conservatives in a difficult situation. On the one hand, the party must deal with attacks from the left-of-centre New Democrats, who will argue that a change in the personnel and ideology of government is necessary. On the other hand, the party must defend itself against the rising Liberal Party, which will argue that they, rather than the Progressive Conservatives, are the best choice for centrist or right-of-centre voters.

Results of the 2009 Nova Scotia General Election

New Democrats win a majority government

In the 2009 general election, the provincial NDP, helmed by Darrell Dexter, won a majority government. The NDP took 31 seats with 45 percent of the popular vote. The Liberals formed the Official Opposition, winning 27 percent of the popular vote and 11 seats in the legislature. The incumbent Progressive Conservative came in third, winning 24 percent of the vote and 10 seats.

Results of 2009 Nova Scotia General Election

Political Party

% Vote

Seats

Status

NS NDP

45.3

31

Government

NS Liberal Party

27.2

11

Official Opposition

NS Progressive Conservatives

24.5

10

-

(CBCNews.ca, June 10, 2009)

The election results radically changed the political map of Nova Scotia. The NDP win marked not only marked the end of ten years of rule by the Progressive Conservative Party, but also the first majority government in the province since 2003. The PC defeat was particularly severe, as the party fell from government to third party status amongst the major political parties. Finally, the election saw the Liberals increase their position in the legislation, becoming the official opposition.

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