Better than the other guys.
Not just today's opponents.
Better than any government. Ever.
That about sums up the message from Darrell Dexter as he tries to convince Nova Scotians to give his NDP government a second mandate.
"We have accomplished more in four years than we have seen in 250 years of past Liberal and Progressive Conservative governments," Dexter said.
The reporter dryly responded: "You're not underplaying it?"
Like any incumbent, the New Democratic Party's 55-year-old leader wants to turn his record into an asset. He claims no other government would have navigated a stagnant economy and emerged in such good shape, including a balanced budget.
"In the midst of some of the most difficult economic times in our history, we chose not to do what previous governments had done. Previous Liberal and Progressive Conservative governments came in, they hacked and slashed their way through government programming.
"We balanced the need to provide public services and grow the province."
'If you look at actual progress, if you look at us in comparison with governments of the past, I'm willing to put that record before the people.' — Darrell Dexter
Now, Dexter said, Nova Scotians will see the dividends of tightly controlled spending and an early and ugly two per cent HST increase that broke a 2009 campaign promise, but generated hundreds of millions in revenue.
"You will see taxes start to come back down. We will be able to put in place programming we really care about."
Dexter rhymed off a series of initiatives: insulin pumps for kids, reinstatement of the dental care program for children, taking the tax off home energy.
He referred to big ticket job creation such as the Irving-owned Halifax Shipyard winning the right to bid on up to $25 billion worth of Canadian navy vessels — a contract won with a $260 million Nova Scotia government forgivable loan to modernize the Halifax yard and other assistance.
There have also been strategies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, promote renewable energy and low income housing.
And yet Nova Scotians seem underwhelmed.
Last fall, the New Democratic Party fell into second place in closely watched Corporate Research Associates polling, and stayed there.
Dexter's own leadership numbers have also slipped.
A far cry from June 2009, when he formed the first provincial NDP government ever elected east of Ontario. The New Democrats won a comfortable majority in the legislature with 31 seats, while the Liberals won 11 and Progressive Conservatives won 10.
"There are enormous pressures when you come into government and enormous expectations and the reality is you cannot be all things to all people," Dexter said.
His government has been criticized for the scale of its spending to keep or attract big businesses.
The Halifax Shipyard deal was the biggest single deal at more than $300 million, but tens of millions have been regularly pumped into the pulp and paper industry. That effort failed at the former Bowater Mersey mill in Brooklyn. Two other mills in Port Hawkesbury and Pictou County are still operating thanks to taxpayers.
The NDP has also worn some of the public anger over Nova Scotia's steadily upward spiral of electricity rates. Some of the increase can be attributed to the use of renewable energy promoted by the government.
"We are taking the province off fossil fuels into renewables because we know they are stable for the long term. If you look at actual progress, if you look at us in comparison with governments of the past, I'm willing to put that record before the people," said Dexter.
Now, having lost 20 pounds this year, Dexter hits the campaign trail trying for another date with history. He's trying to become the first Nova Scotia premier in 25 years to re-elect a majority government. (Progressive Conservative John Buchanan did it last in 1988 — his fourth and final victory.)
Dexter is a former journalist and lawyer. He was first elected in 1998. He is married to Kelly and has a 22-year-old son, Harris.