Nova Scotia·Analysis

2021 Nova Scotia election to feature noteworthy changes from last vote

Nova Scotians will go to the polls on Aug. 17, only the the fourth time in 170 years that anyone has called a provincial election during what is traditionally prime beach time in the province. Here are three other things that make this vote different than previous ballots.

New map, old ridings, new leaders

There will be 55 MLAs at Province House after the upcoming election because of a redrawn electoral map. (Robert Short/CBC)

On Aug. 17, Nova Scotians will choose who will represent them at Province House.

The Liberals are hoping for a third straight majority. The Conservatives and NDP have their sights set on returning to power.

But the political landscape has changed since 2017, creating new challenges and opportunities for those vying to form Nova Scotia's next government. Here are three major differences that could have an impact on the results of the 2021 general election.

New electoral map

In the 2017 general election, voters chose 51 MLAs to sit at Province House. They'll choose 55 this time as a result of a redrawn electoral map.

In 2019, an independent commission recommended the reinstatement of four so-called protected seats — Argyle, Clare, Richmond and Preston. 

The first three were to encourage the probability of Acadian representation, while the Preston seat was reinstated to increase the likelihood that a person from the historic Black communities in the riding would represent the area.

Many Acadians have taken seats at Province House but only five Black MLAs have ever been elected to Canada's oldest legislature.

Velma Morgan, who chairs the non-profit group Operation Black Vote Canada, urged the parties to run more Black candidates in ridings the parties believe they can win.

In Preston, which is designed to give a Black candidate a better shot at winning, she would like to see only Black candidates on the ballot.

"If you want to have diversity in this protected seat in Preston, we would expect that they would only run Black candidates in that seat," said Morgan.  "So no matter which party wins, there'll be a Black person elected in that riding." 

Iain Rankin is shown at a ferry announcement in Cape Breton. This will be his first campaign as Liberal leader. (Matthew Moore/CBC)

Liberal cabinet minister Keith Colwell, who has represented the riding 23 of the past 28 years, recently announced his retirement from politics.

Redrawing the electoral map was also needed because of population changes that have resulted in two more urban ridings and two more rural seats in southwest Nova Scotia.

Overall it's a shift that favours the Liberals, according to Eric Grenier a political analyst. Formerly with the CBC, he is now now author and publisher of The Writ, an online political publication.

"On the whole, they are better for the Liberals because, with the extra four seats, the Liberals would have won three of them based on the results in 2017," said Grenier.

"That's not something that's really all that surprising because the Liberals had the majority government last time and they did well in the regions that have gotten the new seats."

But the new battle lines are not all good news for the party in power, according to Grenier.

In April, Elections Nova Scotia released a report showing what would happen if the votes from the last provincial election in 2017 were transposed to the new electoral district boundaries. 

Grenier compared the results from that report with the actual outcomes from the 2017 election to come up with some interesting observations. If people voted roughly the way they did in 2017, for example, the PCs are in a neck-and-neck race in Waverley-Fall River-Beaver Bank.

"This was the riding that was won by a little bit less than a point by the Liberals in 2017, but now with the new boundaries, the PCs actually eke by with [a 0.2 per cent] advantage over the Liberals," said Grenier.

Grenier said Queens, on the South Shore, is now "much safer for the PCs." 

Tim Houston enters his first campaign as leader of the PCs. (Jeorge Sadi/CBC)

A riding change that helps the NDP is in Dartmouth.

"In Cole Harbour-Portland Valley, [Liberal] Tony Ince won that one by four points," said Grenier. "The new riding, just Cole Harbour, where he's going to be running, the Liberals would have won that by two points

"It's much more of a three-way race, where the NDP is closer to first than they were when they finished third last time."

Fewer incumbents 

There are at least 13 MLAs — 11 Liberal, 1 NDP, 1 Independent — have announced they will sit out the 2021 election.

Both independent candidates Alana Paon and former PC MLA Elizabeth Smith-McCrossin are running as an Independent. 

That will, in theory, put all those seats more into play than in previous elections. 

Grenier said incumbency has been a distinct advantage, especially in this part of the country.

"It definitely puts these seats up for grabs when there are incumbents that don't reoffer for re-election," he said. "In the rest of the country, often incumbents don't have that much of an impact.

"But in places like Nova Scotia, if there isn't an incumbent on the ballot, it really does shake up the riding and present an opportunity for other parties to take a riding away, that before, had actually been pretty safe."

In the 2017 general election, 38 incumbents held onto seats they won or held in the 2013 vote — 25 Liberals, 10 PCs, three NDP. 

This will be the second provincial election for Gary Burrill as leader of the NDP. (Jean Laroche/CBC)

Even when the NDP were swept from office in 2013, 22 of the 51 MLAs at Province House won back their seats during that general election (10 Liberals, 6 NDP and 6 PCs).

The fact six high-profile and long-standing Liberals are leaving politics will also give many voters in those ridings something they haven't had in at least a decade, a chance to vote from someone new, even if they choose to vote Liberal again.

Leo Glavine and former premier Stephen McNeil's names are not on the ballot, giving people who live in Annapolis and Kings West that opportunity for the first time in 18 years. Colwell's last-minute decision to bow out means his name will not be on the ballot for the first time in almost three decades.

New leaders

Although all three parties with seats in the House are being led by people with political experience, two of the three are heading into this race as rookies.

This will be the second campaign for the NDP's Gary Burrill. But Iain Rankin of the Liberals and Tim Houston of the PCs embark on their first campaign as party leader.

Grenier said that could be an advantage and a disadvantage.

It's a plus if the previous leader was unpopular and people were more open to a new face, but having run before also allows a seasoned leader to avoid rookie mistakes.

"If it's your first campaign against other party leaders who have had more experience, that lack of experience can sometimes show during the campaign," said Grenier.

In 1998, a neophyte premier Russell MacLellan led the Liberals from a majority to a minority, and provided the campaign's most cringeworthy moment — seven seconds of silence.

When asked by PC leader John Hamm during a CBC leader's debate if he would resign if he could not present a balanced budget, MacLellan stared straight ahead and remained silent, refusing to answer.

Hamm broke the rules of that debate by challenging the Liberal leader head-on, but that's not what voters remembered. MacLellan's silence and stone-faced stare was a turning point in the campaign.

PC leader and premier Rodney MacDonald had his own awkward TV moment in 2009.

The rookie leader climbed onto a trampoline being used by the granddaughter of a cabinet colleague. The resulting photo-op showed MacDonald jumping joyously, while the youngster scrambled off the trampoline in fear.

The NDP scored an historic win in that election, forming government for the first time in Nova Scotia.

The photo-op, designed to highlight MacDonald's youthful image, likely didn't factor into the outcome, but it was a cringeworthy moment.

All election campaigns are different and they never go according to plan, but these are some differences that could have an impact on the results come election day.


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