Nova Scotia Premier Rodney MacDonald ended weeks of speculation on Saturday when he called a provincial election for Tuesday, June 13.
"This campaign will be about who has the best plan for families," he told reporters outside Government House, after asking Lt.-Gov. Myra Freeman to dissolve the legislature.
MacDonald – who was with his wife, Lori-Ann, and son, Ryan – said he wants a mandate from the people of Nova Scotia.
Only three months earlier, the 34-year-old fiddler from Mabou was named leader of Nova Scotia's Progressive Conservative party, taking over from John Hamm. Since the Tories had a minority government, MacDonald became premier.
His popularity is on the rise, according to a March poll, and he has spent the past few weeks travelling the province making spending announcements.
David Johnson, a political scientist at Cape Breton University, said MacDonald has the advantage of running the province in relatively good economic times.
"This [election] is very much about Rodney MacDonald," Johnson said.
MacDonald said he'll be campaigning on the promises outlined in his government's budget, unveiled on May 9.
Both he and the two opposition leaders have agreed that no one big issue is driving this election.
Provincial NDP Leader Darrell Dexter predicted the election would be about values and whom Nova Scotians trust.
Liberal Leader Francis MacKenzie said it would be about the things that matter to Nova Scotians.
The party that wins will be the one that "can best paint a picture of how we can create a better future," he said.
It will also be MacKenzie's first chance to present himself to voters. He is the only leader without a seat in the legislature, having taken over after Danny Graham resigned in late 2003.
MacDonald has come under fire from critics who say there are no guarantees that, if elected, his government would implement the promises made in the budget.
As in the last provincial election, the Tories have promised a tax break. But critics have pointed out that after Hamm's government won the 2003 election and cut income taxes by 10 per cent – it rescinded the cut less than a year later.
But MacDonald promised that if he is sent back to form the government, he will implement the various tax cuts and spending announcements highlighted in the budget – no matter what the opposition says.
"I have more faith in Nova Scotians than they do," MacDonald said.
Another challenge he will face is to convince voters that his party's promises to cut the tax on home heating and expand nursing-home beds are the Tories' – and not stolen from the New Democrats, as the Official Opposition has claimed.
Final days a flurry
With an election call expected, the final legislative session was a busy one. Apart from the tabling of the budget, the house studied 118 bills introduced as part of the Progressive Conservatives' economic and social plan.
In a flurry of spending to help the struggling newsprint industry, the government promised $65 million to Stora Enso on May 3 in a bid to end a long-running labour dispute at the pulp mill outside Port Hawkesbury.
On Friday, it proposed a similar deal for another mill, Bowater Mersey, announcing plans to buy $26 million in land from the company near Liverpool on the South Shore.
Minority ruled for 3 years
Nova Scotia has had a minority government since August 2003, when the Progressive Conservatives under Hamm captured 25 of the province's 52 seats. The NDP under Dexter won 15 seats, and the Liberals led by Danny Graham won 12.
Graham resigned the leadership in December 2003 to spend time with his wife as she battled cancer. He was replaced by MacKenzie, who had to lead from the sidelines because he didn't have a seat in the legislature.
Hamm announced his retirement from politics in September 2005 and was replaced by MacDonald as party leader at a convention on Feb. 11, 2006.
The seat count when the legislature was dissolved was Progressive Conservatives 25, NDP 15, Liberals 10, one Independent and one seat vacant (Halifax Citadel, Graham's district).