Blink, and you might have missed Nova Scotia's election campaign that ends today.
The tone for the campaign was set from the outset, when rookie Premier Rodney Macdonald's Conservatives decided to eschew the frugal approach of his predecessor and go bidding for votes with spending announcements aplenty. At a debate in my riding, second place leadership finisher Bill Black referred to the wealth of promises in the Tory platform as a "payoff" made possible by good Conservative government. Say one thing about Black, he can be exceedingly blunt. That - at least - is refreshing. But Nova Scotia should be wary of returning to the brokerage politics of the short term - and I see too much of that in an uncertain Rodney MacDonald.
I will be headed to the polls for his Liberal opponent, my neighbour and friend Devin Maxwell
. Devin has fought a tough campaign against the odds, with little money and a leader largely seen as more a hindrance than a help.
The Liberal policies this time are solid. On one of the highest profile issues of the day, only the Liberal party has avoided the easy populist call to remove HST from home heating fuel - a policy that provides absolutely the wrong incentives in our drive for energy efficiency and conservation. When first conceived by the NDP, I have no doubt it was intended as a measure targeted at the poorest Nova Scotians. Yet it must be wondered whether such a broad-based tax cut is the best use of our finite resources for that relief.
Also, the Liberal plan to encourage University graduates to stay in Nova Scotia via tax credits is a strong one, and is to be contrasted with the NDP's pledge for a 10% tuition reduction that, presumably, subsidizes students from out of province at the expense of those here who leave. The Conservatives - increasingly fond of the summer election - have talked about providing such help before, with little result.
The campaign never caught the imagination of the public, probably because the three leaders just aren't all that impressive/provocative when it comes to campaigning. The debate, as Bruce Wark wrote
in the Coast, was an hour-long repetition of the usual platitudes, and surely failed to change anyone's mind. Most disappointing (to me) was Dexter, who has the most experience yet failed to channel that into a campaign that might chart Nova Scotia in a new direction. He has also caught that federal NDP affliction of never uttering a sentence that doesn't include "today's families" or "working families". In his copycat, lead-from-across-the-aisle approach, Rodney Macdonald's obsession is the "Nova Scotia families" moniker. These have become almost infuriating refrains - who is supposed to be against families, anyway?
Francis MacKenzie, the Liberal leader, shied away from the legislature upon his election in favour of "building the party from the grassroots". The policy document is solid, but in an electorate generally satisfied with the direction of the government and economy, most people (and Nova Scotians in particular) will go with people and parties that are known and trusted. If there is a lesson for those casting ballots in the federal Liberal leadership race, it is to pick a candidate who not only has the ideas, but knows how to sell them persuasively to a majority of Canadians. And as the last N.S. minority government showed, ideas proposed by all parties are free for the taking.
Given the polls, the Liberals are destined for third place once again. Perhaps my ideal result would be an slight NDP minority where the Liberals have just enough to hold the balance. A thin Tory majority eeked out in the rural ridings is the outcome to bet on. These might seem like vastly different possibilities to those outside the province, but ironically, both the PC and the NDP have outdone each other this time pretending (ideologically) to be Liberal.
All these musings aside - it's time to get to the polls and see if the people (as opposed to the pundits) are proven right once again. Best of luck to Devin and all the other fine men and women whose names are on the ballot, and to the party workers who toil through the good times and bad to get their candidates elected. It is - for so many of them - a thankless effort.