Nova Scotians have given Stephen McNeil and the Liberals a decisive victory with a majority government, turfing Atlantic Canada's first NDP government and tossing Premier Darrell Dexter out of his own seat in Cole Harbour-Portland Valley.
"The people of Nova Scotia have agreed with our plan to put Nova Scotia first," Premier-designate McNeil told the cheering group crowded into the Bridgetown Curling Club.
"It is with a deep sense of responsibility and purpose that I will make certain our plan is delivered and that our commitments are kept."
McNeil's victory also marks the first time in 131 years that Nova Scotians haven't given an incumbent party a second chance at running the province.
The Liberals were elected in 33 of the province's 51 ridings while the Progressive Conservatives captured 11 ridings and the New Democrats trailed with seven.
Dexter narrowly lost is own seat — by a mere 21 votes — in Cole Harbour-Portland Valley, an area he represented in the legislature for 15 years. Liberal candidate Tony Ince took the seat with 4,002 votes.
"Anyone who gets into politics has to know that it's about losses as well as wins," Dexter said Tuesday night, adding that he would meet with the party executive to discuss his future.
"Nova Scotians made a historic choice four years ago when they elected the NDP. I was humbled by the challenges and the opportunities that we faced. We New Democrats had been conscientious critics, but Nova Scotians had never before put us to the test. Nova Scotians, I know that we didn't meet every expectation."
Progressive Conservative Leader Jamie Baillie won his seat in Cumberland South by 1,236 votes in his first election as leader. The 47-year-old chartered accountant, who was once chief of staff to former Tory premier John Hamm, told his supporters the party was back in contention.
"When there were some who were ready to count us out, we showed them that we were up to the challenge. We showed them that we were ready to move ahead. We showed them what we were made of in the tough times," Baillie said.
"You can be very proud that together, we will be a vigorous and dynamic and positive Official Opposition for the people of Nova Scotia."
14-year drought ended
McNeil, who handily won his seat in the electoral district of Annapolis, swept to power on promises to bring soaring electricity rates under control and commitments to cut government spending, scale back health administration costs and cut the harmonized sales tax as long as the books are balanced.
Tuesday night's victory means McNeil has ended the Liberal Party's drought of 14 years without power and has returned the party to its glory years in the 1990s with a majority.
The win earned accolades from federal Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau, the only federal leader to help his provincial counterpart during the campaign.
"As a dedicated and tireless leader who has spent his life in the service of his community, Nova Scotians can look to Stephen for a promising and prosperous future," Trudeau said in a statement Tuesday night.
"I very much look forward to working with Stephen as we seek to guarantee access to affordable, high-quality education, build a stronger, thriving middle class and increase openness and transparency for Canadians."
The 47-year-old premier-designate was able to overcome a barrage of attacks from the New Democrats and the Progressive Conservatives, who decided early in the campaign that McNeil and the Liberals were the ones to beat.
Dexter, meanwhile, campaigned hard on his party's record as the 32-day campaign came to a close. He asked voters to allow him time to finish what he started and cited jobs that are around the corner from the national shipbuilding procurement strategy, a budget that's balanced for this fiscal year, and fewer emergency room closures in rural parts of the province as evidence of his government's achievements.
It wasn't enough.
When Dexter, 56, came to power, he inherited a fragile economy and a massive deficit, which he blamed for breaking a key promise when he hiked the harmonized sales tax by two percentage points. The unpopular move was one of several that tested the electorate's patience, including the NDP's failure to balance the budget as soon as they promised four years ago.