Nova Scotia

MacDonald says N.S. election a 2-way race between his Tories, NDP

The first full day of the Nova Scotia election campaign saw Progressive Conservative Leader Rodney MacDonald declare the contest a two-way race with the New Democrats.

Liberal leader says his party will shake lowly status and form next government

Rodney MacDonald says this election is about leadership and the economy. (CBC)

The first full day of the Nova Scotia election campaign saw Progressive Conservative Leader Rodney MacDonald declare the contest a two-way race with the New Democrats.

Lt.-Gov. Mayann Francis dissolved the legislature on Tuesday, a day after MacDonald's minority government was defeated on a finance bill. Nova Scotians head to the polls on June 9, the province's fifth election in 11 years.

MacDonald said he's looking forward to the 35-day campaign.

"The central focus on this election will be about the economy and the plan that we put forward in comparison to what the Opposition is saying, the NDP, which really gets to the issue of raising taxes or cutting programs," said MacDonald.

At his first campaign rally event in Halifax, MacDonald told party workers that it's a two-way race between his Tories and the NDP under Dexter — and he predicted a majority for his party.

"I believe this has come down already to a choice between ourselves and the NDP. I did mention Liberals in a couple of spots in the speech, but clearly, this is a choice between the risky schemes of the NDP or what we have put forward," MacDonald later told reporters.

At dissolution, the Tories had 21 seats in the 52-seat legislature, while the NDP had 20. The Liberals trailed with nine. There was one Independent and one vacant seat.

Dexter hopes to be Atlantic Canada's 1st NDP premier

Dexter led the NDP through the last two provincial elections, each time increasing his party's presence in the legislature. In the last provincial election in 2006, the NDP had its best-ever result.

According to one opinion poll earlier this year, the NDP led the governing Tories and the Liberals in voter support, suggesting Nova Scotians may be ready to elect Atlantic Canada's first NDP government.

NDP Leader Darrell Dexter kicks off the campaign in the Hammonds Plains-Upper Sackville district, held at dissolution by the Tories. ((CBC))
Dexter hasn't ruled out the Liberals in this race, but he is hoping to capitalize on anti-Tory sentiment.

"This election is about one simple question: Do you want Rodney MacDonald's Conservatives to have four more years in power?" Dexter asked a partisan crowd at the party's campaign launch Tuesday afternoon. The response, unsurprisingly, was a resounding, "No."

For his part, Liberal Leader Stephen McNeil is drawing hope from the results of the last election and the fact that Dexter couldn't unseat the Tories.

"They didn't want to give him the opportunity to be premier. Premier MacDonald was given a weakened minority. Nova Scotians are looking for a new leader," McNeil said.

Liberals also predict victory

McNeil, who was chosen leader of the Nova Scotia Liberals two years ago, said he's confident his party will relinquish its lowly third-party status and he will become premier.

David Johnson, a political scientist at Cape Breton University, sees leadership as a key factor in this election, particularly as the parties' policies converge in the middle.

The Tories may have launched an anti-New Democrat campaign called "risky NDP," Johnson noted, but it's the Tory government that has been accused of overspending and trying to hide a deficit.

The MacDonald government collapsed over its plan to spend $260 million instead of putting it toward the province's $12-billion debt, as is required by law.

The outcome of Monday's vote was no surprise. Both opposition parties had been refusing to go along with the Tories' plan to make it legal to spend what's known as the offshore offset.

"They dug themselves a hole, and they said the way we're going to get out of the hole is to keep digging," Dexter told supporters at his campaign launch. "We say it's time to put a stop to that and bring the books back into balance and bring fiscal prudence back to the House of Assembly."

The Tories and the opposition have blamed each other for forcing the province's fifth election since 1998.

While MacDonald blamed the NDP and Liberals for pre-empting a budget filled with capital-spending promises, the opposition said it was the Tories who precipitated the election by bringing forward a bill that had no support.

Even though it's early days, Johnson doesn't see anything that will shake voters up and ensure a higher turnout on June 9.

"Right now looking on the horizon, there's nothing that stands out," he said.

Cabinet ministers not re-offering

The Tories hit the campaign trail without a few key players.

Longtime MLAs Jamie Muir and Brooke Taylor, both cabinet ministers, aren't running again. The death of Michael Baker, a former finance minister, has left a vacancy in Lunenburg.

In Cumberland North, former cabinet minister Ernie Fage is running as an Independent. He was kicked out of the Tory caucus after his conviction for leaving the scene of an accident.

Nova Scotia has had a minority Tory government since August 2003, first under John Hamm. In June 2006, with MacDonald at the helm as the newly-minted leader, the party failed to regain its majority and even lost two seats.