Nova Scotians will go to the polls on May 30 to elect a new government.
The election date was a poorly kept secret, and the campaign will be the shortest that the rules allow.
Many of the election issues are familiar ones: health, education, fiscal rectitude and how things cost too much and people are hard-pressed to pay for them.
The Liberals under Stephen McNeil are positioned well to win another majority mandate. It will likely be a reduced majority. Governments tend to campaign on their records. The Liberals’ record is a spotty one.
The government’s main achievement is a balanced budget that is suspended during the campaign. It projects a marginal surplus, compared to a slight deficit last year. It’s a virtual balanced budget either way, but it doesn’t matter much. Eliminating a fiscal deficit is relatively easy, but that still leaves Nova Scotia with a structural deficit. There is nothing that remotely resembles the level of prosperity or an economy so diverse and robust that will curb that deficit any time soon. Still, our debt-to-GDP ratio is holding.
Education remains a topic of debate through the nearly four years the Liberals have governed. The Nova Scotia Health Authority model has hardly improved health care. The province’s film industry is still recovering from the way the Liberals tinkered with it so unnecessarily.
The Liberals announced nearly $400 million in spending on twinning part of Highway 104 and two other 100 series routes. But they bailed on tolls that many motorists would pay willingly to build the twinned sections sooner and maintain them better without impacting the province’s remaining road network.
Nova Scotian voters’ options to the Liberals are questionable.
The Progressive Conservatives under Jamie Baillie have not shown the movement that makes them a government-in-waiting. The Tories lost seats when Karen Casey defected to the Liberals and won re-election under their banner in 2013. Hants West MLA Chuck Porter left the party to sit as an independent.
Pictou County’s three constituencies could well remain Tory blue, but that doesn’t expand the party’s hopes.
The NDP represent the wildcard in this election. The party rightly concluded it lost its soul trying to win election and govern in 2009. Electing Gary Burrill was a clear message among party members that it was time to return to its roots. It may cost the NDP. It may prevent them from moving up. But Burrill’s message that he will run deficits to increase program spending is the one that helped elect the federal Liberals.
Burrill also has to win personal election to continue leading the NDP.
The over-arching question about this election is voter engagement. We may not have yet seen the issue that will determine how Nova Scotians vote.