Hamm returned with minority government
WebPosted August 11, 2003
A new era in Nova Scotia politics started Aug. 5 when cranky
voters erased John Hamm's majority government, forcing the premier
to search out allies in the opposition ranks.
"Nova Scotia politics just got a lot more interesting," a smiling Hamm told supporters at his victory party.
The PC party gained the necessary seats to form government, having been elected in 25 districts ? but that's two short of a majority.
The New Democrats came in second with 15 seats. The Liberals under rookie leader Danny Graham took third place with 12 seats.
"Now is the time for all three political parties to renew their commitment to good government," said Hamm, extending an offer to the Liberal and NDP leaders to work together.
"There is plenty of room for common ground. Tonight I'm issuing a call for bold ideas."
The Tories will have to work closely with both the NDP and the Liberals to keep the government stable.
On election night, NDP Leader Darrell Dexter told cheering New Democrats in Halifax he was proud of his party's performance in the election, and promised to co-operate with the Conservatives.
"The NDP will co-operate in every possible way to make the legislature work," said Dexter.
To one NDP MLA, that means finding solutions to the problems voters talked about during the election campaign.
"Clearly the key issues are car insurance, health care and education, probably in that order," said Graham Steele, who was re-elected in the riding of Halifax-Fairview.
"One way or the other, the Hamm government is going to have to find a way to deal with those issues because that's what's on the mind of the voters. We need to work together and the key to all of this will be the courage of the people who are involved."
The NDP and the Liberals have ruled out the possibility of forming a coalition.
Graham said he's willing to work with the Conservatives because voters aren't willing to go back to the polls soon.
"Nova Scotians will go back to the beach and expect that when they return at the end of the summer there will be three parties working co-operatively towards a better Nova Scotia," he said.
Results reflect pre-vote polling
Election results closely followed pre-vote polling, with the parties maintaining their support in their strongholds, and not making any real breakthroughs against other parties. The Liberals remain a Cape-Breton centred party, the NDP held Metro Halifax with 41 per cent of the vote, and the Tories kept a solid power base in rural Nova Scotia.
Overall, the Progressive Conservatives captured 36 per cent of the popular vote. That's down about three percentage points from the 1999 election. The NDP gained about a percentage point in the popular vote, while the Liberals gained two.
"Clearly we wish we had more seats, but we had the largest increase in popular support, and I am very pleased at where we are going," said Royden Trainor, the Liberal's campaign manager.
Liberal Party president Michael Savage was clearly disappointed with the result, but said he feels confident about his party's performance during the campaign. "We knew it was going to be close," he said. "These are not the numbers we would have liked."
NDP campaign strategist Peter Mancini greeted the results with a smile, encouraged by party gains in rural Nova Scotia while holding on to voter support in Metro Halifax.
Tories lose trio of ministers
Hamm?s victory wasn't without its cost: three cabinet ministers went down to defeat on election night.
Health Minister Jane Purves was defeated by Liberal Leader Danny Graham in Halifax Citadel, coming in third, more than 500 votes behind the leader. Natural Resources Minister Tim Olive lost his seat in Dartmouth South-Portland Valley to the NDP's Marilyn More. In Digby-Annapolis, Agriculture and Fisheries Minister Gordon Balser was defeated by Liberal Harold Theriault Jr.
Voter turnout down
Overall voting numbers were the lowest since 1960. About 63 per cent of eligible Nova Scotians bothered to go to the ballot box on voting day, down from 68 per cent in the 1999 election. The poor showing could be blamed on the timing of the summer election.
Hamm, 65, called the province's second summer election in four years on July 5, betting his personal popularity and a series of big-ticket spending programs would persuade voters to return him to government.
Seniors' health care, car insurance and leadership were the main issues in the race.
Voters complain about election organization
Besides the generally poor weather on election day, some voters across the province were also frustrated by the way the election was organized.
Halifax-Chebucto resident James Sullivan compared it to a third-world election. "They couldn't even find my house address on their list," he said. He registered to vote three weeks ago, but when he arrived to cast a ballot, there was no record of him.
"They didn't even have a map of the electoral boundaries so they couldn't tell if I was at the wrong polling station. After talking to everyone in the room, I was finally able to cast my ballot."
Several other voters in Halifax said they arrived at their assigned polling station only to find it had been moved.
The weeks ahead
John Hamm's minority government will be put to the test this fall when the legislature is recalled.
He'll have his new cabinet in place by mid-August, but he'll also have to consider the two party leaders sitting on the opposite side of the room.
Danny Graham and Darrell Dexter have already ruled out alliances and coalitions, saying they'll work with John Hamm on an issue-by-issue basis. For his part, Hamm promised to co-operate with the other leaders on legislation.
"I think there's a level of maturity," said Hamm, after meeting with the two opposition leaders.
"It would be very difficult if good legislation is coming forward, if good public policy is coming forward, for any party to pull the plug."
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