Nova Scotia

Nova Scotia NDP leadership hopefuls differ on Darrell Dexter legacy

Three people are running to lead Nova Scotia New Democrats into the next election. Although Lenore Zann, Gary Burrill and Dave Wilson were all there for the NDP's first ever mandate, they disagree over what was achieved — and what led to defeat.

'But who was I? I was this little backbencher. What did I know about anything? So nobody listened to me'

Three people have put their hats in the ring to lead the provincial NDP. From left to right there's Gary Burrill, Dave Wilson, and Lenore Zann. (garyburrill.ca/Nova Scotia Legislature)

The three people vying this month to become Nova Scotia's next leader of the New Democratic Party all sat on the government benches when Darrell Dexter was premier. 

But each has a different story to tell about that first NDP government and all three vow to do better, if they ever become premier. 

In interviews airing on CBC Radio's Mainstreet, Lenore Zann was the harshest critic of that first and only mandate.

"I was deadly against cuts to education," she said. "And I said so at every opportunity around the caucus table."

She was frustrated her views were dismissed. "But who was I? I was this little backbencher. What did I know about anything? So nobody listened to me."

'The best government in our lifetime'

Fellow backbench colleague Gary Burrill offered a wildly different assessment of that time.

"We were the best government in our lifetime," he said. "On the other hand I think it's true we also disappointed."

That disappointment stems from the fact, according to Burrill, the party was too focused on balancing the budget.

"What was required was not balancing the books," he said. "But major social investment."

The only former cabinet minister in the race, Dave Wilson, suggested the failure to secure a second mandate was a learning opportunity.

"lt was a challenge for us coming in as a new government, first time and we made some mistakes," he said. "But I think going through that experience makes us, as a party, stronger."

Zann said she was not surprised the party lost 24 seats on election night, dropping from government to third-party status in the House. She said she predicted it.

Warned caucus

"If we continue down this path I promise you, I can guarantee you that we will be handing over a nice, tidy, balanced budget to the next Liberal government," she remembered warning caucus. "And I'll be lucky if I come out of it with my own seat. Nobody listened."

She was the only backbench New Democrat to hold onto her seat in the vote on Oct. 9, 2013. 

Wilson also held onto his seat. He too felt a failure to listen was a key reason for the defeat. He blames Dexter and the premier's office for that.

"The connection he had with not only our party members but Nova Scotians was lost when he entered the premier's office," said Wilson.

"People couldn't get a hold of him or there was what was perceived, and most likely was there, some kind of wall around him, insulating him from the outside world."

Wilson claims he has heard that complaint over and over during this leadership campaign.

Not good enough

Burrill, a United Church minister, lost his seat in the last election, but is the most sympathetic. He said governments should be judged on how well they "attend to the needs of its most vulnerable citizens."

"I think that we did a better job of that than the rest of the governments of my lifetime," he said. "But that we did not do a job that was good enough and was not commensurate with the hopes people had for the first NDP government in the province."

Burrill, Wilson and Zann all promised they could do better by listening more, governing differently and not allowing themselves to be cut off from the advice of party members. 

About the Author

Jean Laroche

Reporter

Jean Laroche has been a CBC reporter for 32 years. He's been covering Nova Scotia politics since 1995 and has been at Province House longer than any sitting member.

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