Nova Scotia·Nova Scotia Votes

Progressive Conservatives surge to surprise majority win in Nova Scotia election

The Progressive Conservatives will form a majority government in Nova Scotia as Tim Houston led his party Tuesday night to a resounding win over the Liberals, which have led the province since 2013.

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The Progressive Conservatives will form a majority government in Nova Scotia as Tim Houston led his party Tuesday night to a resounding win over the Liberals, which have led the province since 2013.

Liberal Leader Iain Rankin conceded the result as votes continued to be counted Tuesday evening, and before it had been determined whether the PCs were celebrating a majority or minority victory. He said he wouldn't have done anything different and will continue to lead provincial Liberals.

Speaking to a jubilant crowd gathered in his home area of Pictou County, Houston referred to polls in the spring that suggested the Liberals would cruise to victory.

"They were writing us off. Well, I wonder what they're writing right now," said the 51-year-old career accountant.

"Tonight we made history."

As of Tuesday night, with two seats left to call, the Tories had 39.1 per cent of the vote, which translated to 31 elected candidates, with 28 seats needed for a majority in the 55-seat legislature. 

The Liberals, meanwhile, had 36.7 per cent of the vote, but only managed to elect 17 people. The NDP elected five candidates and are leading in a sixth race, taking 21 per per cent of the vote.

WATCH | Liberal Leader Iain Rankin concedes defeat:

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Liberal Leader Iain Rankin conceded as Progressive Conservatives surged to victory. 1:52

Houston said the result shows voters pay attention when they're offered real solutions to real problems. He thanked voters for giving him and the party their support and pledged to work every day to keep it.

"I may be the one on the stage, but it's Nova Scotians — Nova Scotians, you are the ones that spoke loud and clear in this election," he said.

"For the next four years — and beyond — I will promise you this: I will give you everything I have to fix health care. I will give you everything I have to make this a better province. It won't happen overnight and it will cost money, but if we work together we can get the job done."

Tories took early lead

The Tories will return to power for the first time since 2009 and deny the Liberals a third consecutive win. The PCs jumped out to early leads in many seats after polls closed, including seats they previously held but also many they targeted.

That includes Guysborough-Tracadie, where former radio reporter Greg Morrow knocked off two-term Liberal cabinet minister Lloyd Hines. Morrow said his team hit as many doors as possible in their quest to knock off the political veteran.

"We worked hard to get to all the back roads and side roads of the riding. Sometimes in elections they say you don't really win an election — the incumbent loses. But I just feel like that's a disservice to the amount of work that the team here put in."

Morrow wasn't the only Tory newcomer to defeat a sitting cabinet minister.

Michelle Thompson defeated Randy Delorey, the justice minister, and Susan Corkum-Greek bested Suzanne Lohnes-Croft, the culture minister. Kent Smith, meanwhile, knocked off Liberal speaker of the House Kevin Murphy.

Focus on health care pays off

For Houston, the result is vindication of the party's almost single-minded focus on health care for the last 31 days. He repeatedly targeted the Liberal record of the last eight years, pointing to a growing wait list for family doctors, ambulance delays and a lack of long-term care beds.

Colton LeBlanc was the first candidate CBC News projected to win. The PC candidate was running for re-election in Argyle.

The former paramedic said it was clear on the doorsteps that health care was the top issue of the campaign.

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"That's what we've been talking about for the last year," he told CBC News.

"We've continued to repeat our plans and I think that started to resonate with Nova Scotians and particularly here in southwest Nova Scotia."

Other conservative leaders congratulated Nova Scotia's Tories on Twitter.

Liberal campaign didn't gain steam

The results spell the end of Rankin's short tenure as premier, a role he inherited from Stephen McNeil after a leadership race in February following McNeil's retirement.

The Liberal campaign never seemed to gain steam.

Voters did not give the Liberals credit for their management of the COVID-19 pandemic, something many party officials expected. An anticipated sleepy campaign turned out to be anything but for the party.

The Rankin-led Liberals become the first sitting government in Canada not to be re-elected during the pandemic.

In his concession speech, Rankin told supporters gathered at the Halifax convention centre he was proud of the party's focus on positivity.

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"Over the breadth of the campaign, we — my team — have travelled over 9,000 kilometres and what was clear to me was the pandemic did not defeat our province," he said, in what was perhaps his most relaxed speech of the campaign.

"In many ways it made us stronger, wiser and sharper, able to tackle anything and succeed."

Rankin lauded what health-care workers have done for the province during the pandemic and acknowledged the toll it's taken on them and their families. He said he was proud of the people who stood for the party — the most diverse slate in Nova Scotia Liberal Party history — and said he had fun during the campaign.

"I still wouldn't change anything," he said.

"The positivity in our campaign — I still believe in positive politics, no matter what happens. I will still continue to believe in you and in Nova Scotians and in what we can really do."

Brendan Maguire, who CBC News reported was re-elected for the Liberals in Halifax Atlantic, said he could feel the winds of change as he travelled through various districts during the campaign.

Maguire backed Rankin in last February's leadership contest. He said he doesn't think the public got to know his friend the way he knows him.

"He's probably one of the most empathetic and smartest people I've ever met," Maguire told CBC News.

"People didn't see that and that's unfortunate because this is a person who would have been great for the province. But, obviously, it's the will of the people, and people have spoken."

He touted the deal Rankin negotiated with the federal government ahead of the election for affordable child care, as well as his efforts to make the environment more of a policy discussion within the government.

Maguire said he's hopeful Houston and his team will be successful as a government because if they are, it means the province will be successful. 

Nova Scotia Progressive Conservative leader Tim Houston, flanked by his wife Carol, daughter Paget and son Zachary, left to right, addresses supporters after winning a majority government in the provincial election at the Pictou County Wellness Centre in New Glasgow, N.S., on Tuesday, Aug. 17, 2021. (Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press)

Cameron MacKeen, campaign co-chair for the Tories, said the result is proof of what the party believed going into the election.

"Polls had us, two months ago, 28 points behind, saying we had no chance of winning," he told CBC News.

"We have completely blown that to smithereens. We've had one of the best campaigns that I've ever been associated with. This shows that a good campaign with a good leader and good message can do anything."

A woman walks by a voting station in Halifax where people are lined up to vote in Nova Scotia's provincial election on Tuesday. Some polls opened later than expected this morning and will remain open until 8:30 p.m. AT as a result. (Rose Murphy/CBC)

During the campaign, Houston stressed the progressive elements of the party, distancing them from the Conservative Party of Canada. The provincial party pledged to spend $423 million in the first year alone of a Tory mandate trying to fix health care. Houston also promised to balance the budget in six years, two years longer than what Rankin said he would do.

Speaking to his supporters Houston further touched on the fact the party ran its most diverse slate of candidates ever and that there's a place for everyone under the Tory banner.

NDP Leader Gary Burrill, meanwhile, discussed health care during the campaign, but his party primarily focused on the province's housing crisis, which has seen skyrocketing house prices and rental increases far outstripping the means of many Nova Scotians.

The NDP was promising to address that by bringing in permanent rent control. It was the only party to do so.

Burrill, Claudia Chender, Susan Leblanc and Kendra Coombes were all reelected, while Suzy Hansen held Halifax Needham for the party in her first provincial bid for office.

"I am overjoyed," said Hansen.

"I'm super excited but, at the same time, honoured to be the representative of Halifax Needham."

Hansen, who is Black, is part of an historic night for diversity in the legislature. She is one of four Black candidates elected, along with the Liberals' Angela Simmonds in Preston, Ali Duale in Halifax Armdale and Tony Ince, who was re-elected in Cole Harbour.

Nova Scotia has never elected more than two Black MLAs at one time and prior to this election had only elected five Black MLAs in the history of the legislature.

Hansen said she wants to be an inspiration to her children and others in her community.

"If you put a lot of effort into it and you work hard, you can accomplish anything."

A man heads into a polling station in Halifax on Tuesday. The results are expected to be close and may not be announced tonight. (Rose Murphy/CBC)

Tuesday's result can be considered nothing short of a major disappointment for Rankin and the Liberals.

In the campaign's final days, there was a suggestion Rankin and his team knew the race was close when he revisited comments he made in the spring that the province's temporary rent control, introduced last fall during the pandemic, could stick around for several years after the provincial state of emergency is lifted and housing stock has increased.

Outwardly, however, he professed confidence, going as far at a rally on Monday to predict that his team would form a majority government. He told reporters Tuesday night he was surprised by the result.

Rankin entered the election with 11 incumbents not re-offering. It proved a further problem for him, with the Liberals only able to hold three of those seats with new candidates.

Counting was suspended around 12:30 a.m. in the districts of Cumberland North and Halifax Citadel-Sable Island, where winners have yet to be projected. NDP candidate Lisa Lachance was leading Liberal finance minister Labi Kousoulis at the time, while Independent candidate Elizabeth Smith-McCrossin was leading Liberal candidate Bill Casey.

The final count was also suspended overnight in districts where Burrill, Chender, Colton Leblanc and Maguire were already projected to win.

In all six cases, officials with Elections Nova Scotia cited the outstanding volume of ballots to count and limited available staff.

Elections Nova Scotia finalized the counts in Maguire and LeBlanc's districts on Wednesday morning, and counting resumed in the four remaining ridings.

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