What does Nova Scotia mean for the NDP?

Staring once more into the NDP’s soul

Thomas Mulcair grants that there are lessons in the defeat of an NDP government in Nova Scotia. So what might those lessons be?

Greg Fingas suggests the result is a reminder to be bold.

The working assumption for both the federal party and most of the provincial parties close to forming government has been that the only way to win over voters is to appear steady, staid and safe rather than pushing strongly for many policy priorities. And that theory seemed especially likely to work for Darrell Dexter given Nova Scotia’s precedent of offering every previous government at least a second term. But now that Dexter alone has been toppled – in contrast to far more controversial provincial counterparts elsewhere over the past couple of years – it’s worth asking whether more activist government might prove valuable on two fronts.

First, for electoral purposes there has to be some value to keeping a party base engaged and a set of values in the public eye. And while “base vs swing” is one of the perpetual debates for political strategists of all stripes, it’s hard to see the Nova Scotia experience as evidence that balancing budgets immediately and promising social progress later is a winning combination. And second, there’s the question of what a government will leave behind after its stay in office is done.

Ralph Surrette says the NS NDP lost touch with its supporters.

Dexter’s stand, inspired by NDP icon Tommy Douglas in Saskatchewan, was that the budget had to be balanced before investments in social programs can be sustainable in the long run.

The first Western NDP premiers also had to face conflict with their left wings who wanted to invest in social programs faster. From that example, he expected his own progressives to push too hard, too fast. His first bad move was to cut them off hard.

Gerald Caplan says it’s a bit of a conundrum. And possibly Bob Rae’s fault.

All Darrell Dexter needed to do was to discover the Manitoba/ Saskatchewan secret and B.C. and Ontario’s Achilles heel. But here’s the rub. No one knows what works and what doesn’t. Each leader (even Bob Rae, back then) was fully committed to the party’s ideals of social justice and equality, although implementation depended on circumstances. Saskatchewan’s political culture has as many differences from Manitoba as it has commonalities. Nova Scotia, like every province, has its own distinct political traditions. And it’s not clear that the Saskatchewan NDP’s secret even works for Saskatchewan any more…

Commenting during the campaign, Cape Breton University political science professor David Johnson judged that “Dexter has done as well as anyone could possibly do, given the situation he had to deal with.” That’s pretty high praise. But somehow it wasn’t good enough for most Nova Scotians. There, like most everywhere else, the NDP seems unable to escape its reputation for being dicey economic managers, and even terrible recessions are no excuse. Time and again, Bob Rae’s wildly-exaggerated record of economic incompetence in Ontario trumps the party’s solid record in Saskatchewan and Manitoba. Thomas Mulcair has his work cut out for him.

Like the Conservative party, the NDP is blessed of a certain ideological debate about its reason for being. But unlike the Conservative party—perhaps especially after seven years of the Harper government—the idea of an NDP government can still seem sort of unusual. The party has only technically existed since 1961 and, outside of Saskatchewan and Manitoba, it has only ever won three elections in British Columbia, one in Ontario, one in Nova Scotia and three in the Yukon. (Total number of provincial seats won by the NDP in the history of New Brunswick: Five.) Federally, this is, of course, the first time the NDP has been the official opposition. Previous to 2011, the NDP’s high-point was 1988, when it won 43 seats with 20.4% of the popular vote. Between 1993 and 2008, it held fewer seats than the Bloc Quebecois.

And yet, it is also true that the NDP has never been closer to putting one of its own in the Prime Minister’s Office.




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What does Nova Scotia mean for the NDP?

  1. I notice that Caplan in his quote fails to mention the BC NDP’s stellar accomplishment of taking it from a have province to a have-not province. As well as white elephant fast ferries that did not function properly (but funnelled lots of money to Glenn Clark’s union buddies), and the island highway project that went wildly over budget (as a result of funnelling lots of money to Glenn Clark’s union buddies), and so on . . .

    • I notice that GritsRock fails to mention that only one year under the BC NDP was BC a “have-not” province and that the NDP left BC as a “have” province with a largest surplus seen in the province to date, which the BC Liberals immediately turned into a massive deficit along with “have-not” status and years of transfer payments of up to more than 4X the level of payment under the single “have-not” NDP year.
      As well as sabotaging BC Hydro in order to funnel lots of money to the Liberal’s corporate buddies, and so on….

      • I’m referring to “have” and “have not” in terms of its conventional and generally understood meaning in the context of Canadian confederation, i.e., whether or not a province is a net contributor or a net recipient of federal transfers. For many years, the “haves” were Alberta, BC and Ontario (recently Sask and NF have come in via resource wealth). Under the BC NDP, for the first time in many many years, BC slipped into being a net recipient of federal transfers. The BC Liberals reversed that, and BC is again a “have” province, being a net contributor.

        • I should add that by “federal transfers”, I am referring specifically to equalization-related transfers.

        • So am I. What part of my comment don’t you understand?
          The BC Liberals didn’t reverse anything, because BC wasn’t receiving transfer payments when the Liberals took over, although BC did begin receiving them again under the BC Liberals – at twice the rate of the single year that BC received a transfer payment under the NDP, escalating to more than 4X the rate.

          • “The following provinces will not be receiving equalization payments in 2013-14: Alberta, British Columbia, Saskatchewan, Newfoundland and Labrador.”

            http://www.fin.gc.ca/fedprov/eqp-eng.asp

          • Have you got a point you’re trying to make?

          • Now that I’ve done a bit more poking around on this, I can see that this issue of equalization payments for BC is a lot more complex and nuanced than I first thought. So I take your point on that.

    • He also conveniently left out how in Manitoba the NDP ignored the balanced budget law and and started running deficits before the recession. And how they’ve been raising taxes for the last 5 years, yet the deficits continue to grow. Or how they’ve been cooking the books by having MB Hydro take on massive amounts of debt just so the NDP can squeeze more money out of the utility.

      Granted, the Manitoba NDP was quite fiscally responsible under Gary Doer, but the moment Greg Selinger took over the NDP reigns the province has taken a hard turn into the ditch with no plan to get out.

      • Kinda shame that all the other provinces are doing so
        much better, eh? Wonder why that is ?

  2. The default political position of NS is Red Tory. DD knew that and
    tried to govern from that area. Didn’t work. The NDP faithful tolerated
    him because he won and he never really had rural NS. They voted NDP once
    and once only in hope that somebody could change the modern world.

    DD was respected because of his years of backroom organizational work.
    But he never had the salesman qualities required for political success.
    Early on he either drove away or lost three MLAs who were important to
    different constituencies within the party and he wasn’t fully trusted by a
    lot of people. A shame. Most people expected him to take a very serious
    hit but not what happened.

    And, he never had friends in the media. My own pet personal peeve was
    a Harper lackey named Kevin Lacey. He had drifted down from the Harper
    clique to manage the last (losing) Tory campaign. After that failure, he turned
    up in a conservative income support position with the CTF. And the Halifax
    media adopted him like a lost puppy. 3 to 4 times a week he’d be showing
    up somewhere blatting about whatever and he’d be presented as an impartial,
    disinterested commentator in the public interest. Fine. The media can talk to
    whoever makes their life easier. But it always drove me nuts that there was
    no disclosure or discussion of his background. I truly believe that constant
    drone in the air helped form the public mood that DD had to deal with and
    didn’t do very well. So.

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