Nova Scotia party leaders make final pitch for votes

HALIFAX – Hours before Nova Scotians were to cast their ballots, the leaders of the province’s three main political parties made one last swing through battleground ridings that could determine the outcome of the election Tuesday.

Premier Darrell Dexter hung his hopes on what he believes is a large block of undecided voters that he thinks could give his New Democrats a second term in office.

“We are finding more and more in the way of undecideds who are coming to our campaign and we want that momentum to continue,” Dexter said Monday while campaigning in Chester Basin.

Dexter, who became the first NDP premier in Atlantic Canada after the June 2009 election, cited the federal navy shipbuilding contract, a balanced budget and fewer emergency room closures as evidence of his government’s achievements. He said he believes voters are aware that such progress could be in jeopardy under a Liberal government led by Stephen McNeil.

“We have a strong program we have articulated over the course of the campaign,” he said. “They know they can rely on us to build on this strong foundation. They also understand the risk that comes with Mr. McNeil and the Liberals, which is essentially throwing away what we have and starting over.”

Dexter concluded his day in Halifax, a base of support in recent years for his party but also an area that the opposition parties heavily targeted after several key NDP members decided not to run again.

“There are obviously a lot of new seats where there aren’t incumbents and naturally enough those will be battlegrounds for all the parties,” Dexter said.

McNeil said while his party needs to win seats in all parts of the province, it must make gains in Halifax if it’s to win the election.

“There’s no question there is a huge volume of seats here in metro and we need to be part of that, we need to win some of those seats,” he said during a stop in the city, urging party workers to speak with disaffected NDP and Progressive Conservative supporters.

“I would ask you to forget about the traditional way families have voted and the way communities have voted. Reach out and ask everyone you see for their support.”

He implored Nova Scotians who have yet to make up their minds to examine whether each party’s promises are feasible, repeating his message that the campaign is about trust.

“I would encourage them to look at all three parties and determine for themselves which platform is doable, which party can they trust and which leader can they trust to deliver on the commitments we’ve made over the last 30 days,” he said as he wrapped up a three-day tour that saw him visit all but a handful of the province’s 51 ridings.

During his 31 days on the campaign trail, McNeil ran a steady campaign that promised less government spending and greater competition in the energy sector. He also ruled out reducing the harmonized sales tax until the books are balanced.

Progressive Conservative Leader Jamie Baillie travelled to his hometown of Truro, where he said he believes voters have agreed on one thing: it’s time to get rid of the governing NDP.

“They’re now looking at the two choices they have, the PCs and the Liberals,” Baillie said, repeating a theme he has relied on for much of the campaign. “That’s why I wanted to make it clear today that there’s a very stark choice between those two.”

Baillie, whose main promises include frozen power rates and tax cuts, said his party is offering the province a brighter future with more jobs, while the Liberals are saying little, hoping to coast to victory without anyone noticing.

“The Liberals have been … sleepwalking through an election, hoping nobody notices that they don’t have a plan of their own,” Baillie said.

“They’ve spent the entire time criticizing and attacking me and our plan and Mr. Dexter and his plan. Nova Scotians are going to reject that approach. At the end of the day, I believe that we have hope and change on our side.”

When the election was called Sept. 7, the NDP had a healthy majority government with 31 seats in the house. There were 12 Liberal members and seven Tories.

As the campaign drew to a close, Dexter warned voters that electing a Liberal government would be a risky proposition, which is exactly what the Liberals and Tories said about the NDP in the days leading up the 2009 election.

Dexter said a Liberal plan to cut the number of health boards from 10 to two would create a chaotic and expensive “super bureaucracy.” A similar plan tried by an earlier Liberal government proved to be a dismal failure when 1,600 hospital beds were eliminated and more than 1,000 nurses left the province, he said.

Dexter and Baillie both attacked a Liberal promise to break the monopoly on energy held by Nova Scotia Power, the province’s privately owned utility, calling it a bad idea after similar schemes failed in other provinces.

For the most part, McNeil remained above the fray, cruising through the latter half of the campaign on a low-key, front-runner strategy aimed at attracting little attention and avoiding gaffes.

McNeil did focus his attacks against the NDP on what he said were corporate giveaways doled out by the party, particularly a $260 million forgivable loan to the Irving Shipyard in Halifax. The Liberal leader has promised to do away with such financial assistance, saying the province should be the lender of last resort.

Dexter has said loans, like the one given to the shipyard, are necessary if the province hopes to compete for jobs with other jurisdictions.

As for the Tories, Baillie’s campaign consistently repeated the same key promises since the beginning of the race: a five-year freeze on electricity rates, $200 million worth of tax cuts and getting rid of a pension plan for members of the legislature that he says is unfair to taxpayers.

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