Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Stephen McNeil, premier of Nova Scotia?

It might be a little bizarre for me to be asking such a question considering McNeil is the green, brand new leader of the distant third place Nova Scotia Liberals who hold 9 of 52 seats in the Nova Scotia legislature and last year finished third in the popular vote... and it was a distant third.

McNeil comes neither from Greater Halifax (where almost half of the seats are) nor from Cape Breton (where the Liberals traditional strength has been though it was lost in the 2006 election).

So, what gives?

First, let's look at their opponents.

The PCs, despite gaining 3% in the popular vote in the last election slipped 3 seats in the legislature due to the realignment of politics in the province where the Tories are really the only province-wide party, running in two-way fights against the NDP in Halifax and against the Liberals elsewhere (with a few notable acceptions). As a result of their support being evenly spread while the other two parties have strong concentrated bases, the Tories will need more votes to win less seats going forward. Add to that that their new leader, Rodney MacDonald, won the PC leadership by accident and has proved a weak campaigner and an even weaker governer.

The NDP, despite having an ideal scenario in 2006 (a poor campaign by the governing Tories and a Liberal Party, which for the first time, was not running to win but instead to form the official opposition), failed to make substantial gains over their past showings. The NDP has a glass ceiling of about 20 seats and 35% voter support. Since their big break through in 1998, the NDP results have been 19, 11, 15, 20 in terms of seats and 34.2, 29.9, 31.0, 34.5 in terms of popular vote percentage. Twenty seats is impressive and could conceivably be a plurality of seats in the legislature (a future election could yeild NDP 20, PC 16, Lib 16) but I doubt either of the traditional parties would want to give the NDP the legitimacy of having governed so such a minority legislature would not last long and might even seen one of the traditional parties propped up by the other.

So back to the Liberals. They can do no worse ever than they did in 2006. They had a weak leader who ran a weak campaign. The fact that the Liberals managed 9 seats and almost 24% of the vote speaks volumes about the talent and tenacity of the Liberal workers in that province. So they've got nowhere to go but up - at least in terms of popular vote (in 1999 they got 6.2% more votes but only 2 more seats).

So I've explained that the Liberals will do better, the NDP can't do better and that the Tories are very underwhelming but this is hardly a compelling argument for Premier McNeil.

So, let's take a walk down memory lane...

1933 the Liberals return to power in Nova Scotia, in 1935 the Liberals return in PEI and New Brunswick.

1953 the Tories return to power in New Brunswick, they do the same in Nova Scotia in 1956 and PEI in 1959.

1986 the Liberals return to power in PEI, they do the same in New Brunswick in 1987 and in Nova Scotia in 1993.

1996 the Tories return to power in PEI, in 1999 they do the same in PEI and New Brunswick.

2006 the Liberals return to power in New Brunswick, they do the same in PEI in 2007..........

Not a perfect record but in the past 80 years there are four examples of the Maritime provinces being all with one party and en masse switching to the other. So far we got two out of three so it will be interesting to see if history repeats itself in Nova Scotia.


daniel said...

Interesting analysis, though perhaps more "wishful thinking" than "well-thought prediction". A key thing to note in those "memory lane" elections is that 3rd parties were non-factors in the competition for power, or even the official opposition, for that matter. Also of note is the fact that the NDP began eating into Conservative seats in the last election, while the Liberals fought hard just to maintain their strongholds.

While I think the Tories' tenure at the helm of NS may be drawing to a close, the beneficiary of this decline will be, as it always has been, the official opposition ;)

I expect that Nova Scotia will have the first NDP government east of Ontario before the decade is out.

nbpolitico said...

Certainly no wishful thinking. I have no stake in Nova Scotia politics nor in the Nova Scotia Liberal Party. Whether or not they win makes no difference to me. I just thought it was an interesting historical coincidence.

However, I do think that it is quite clear that the NDP has hit its ceiling and that the best it will ever get in Nova Scotia will be a minority government. Mind you if they were to win a minority and do well they could perhaps grow, but they are not going to rush into majority territory anytime soon.

Jay said...

Great post.

Nova Scotia will most likely have a liberal minority next time around.

I would not expect NL to change due to the fact that the only difference between a Newfoundland Conservative and a Newfoundland Liberal is name and Newfoundland Conservatives tend to have bit of a separatist streak in them.

daniel said...

The idea of the NDP having a 35% may be true, but until the 1998 election, they had a 20% ceiling. Now, past results may give a window into the future, but when 3rd parties become major players, all bets are off - especially if vote-splitting becomes a factor. (Example: Bob Rae's 37% "landslide".) Heck, if a Liberal resurgence is in the cards, Rodney MacDonald might even win a majority next time around :p

daniel said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
daniel said...

*meant to say "The idea of the NDP having a 35% ceiling."

McGuire said...

I definately believed that the NS Libs had a chance from going from 3rd place to gov't if they elected Diana Whalen, but MacNeil has moved the party to the left to the point it's nothing but an echo of the NDP. The Liberals have always done best when they positioned themselves squarely in the centre, not centre-left. he's made thingss a lot easier for Rodney to hang onto power, which is too bad. I am a disgruntled PCer who'll be voting Green in the next provincial election.

No chance said...

Where have I heard this type of thing before?