Iain Rankin and his wife walk down a driveway on a sunny day.
Premier and wife out for a Saturday morning stroll…

It’s 7:37 am on Saturday morning and I hit refresh on my computer news feed. Again.

A few minutes earlier, on CBC Radio’s Weekend Morning, newsreader Sarah Haliburton — squeezed between host Bill Roach’s usual eclectic musical selections (Dennis Lee’s iconic “Alligator Pie” followed by “Two Sleepy People,” the Fats Waller version) — began her latest update with news that no longer seemed much like news.

“In Nova Scotia, it could be an August election…”

Three days earlier, veteran AllNovaScotia legislature reporter Brian Flinn, after checking the lie of the political land (in all its many and various meanings), reported back that “all political parties are now mobilizing their troops for an Aug. 17 election. Signs are being printed and campaign vehicles are being fitted with giant images of the party leaders… All signs indicate the premier will plunge Nova Scotia into an election campaign by Sunday.”

By Friday, the Chronicle Herald’s Francis Campbell had shaved one day off Flinn’s weekend writ-drop prognostication. “Premier Iain Rankin could make it as early as Saturday, setting the table for an Aug. 17 election day…”

That same day, CBC provincial reporter Jean Laroche posted on Facebook a photo of his campaign “go-bag,” mic stand and MEDIA badge, packed and ready “for the next 31 days. Stay tuned.”

Of course, news isn’t really news until it is.

Which is why I hit refresh again.

Back in June, I remember listening to an interview with another smart CBC political reporter, Michael Gorman, who sounded supremely confident we would all be trekking to the polls on the first Tuesday in August.

That was around the time I was predicting — not too loudly, I hope now — that Rankin would hold off election day until early September. My rationale was that a post-Labour Day vote would give us all a little time to savour the COVID-free fruits of our collective sacrifices before the politicians began buzzing about like unwelcome mosquitos at a summer barbecue.

It seems I was wrong about that.

It’s now shortly after 8 am and CBC reporter Brett Ruskin — is everyone racking up weekend overtime? — has just tweeted/teased out the latest tidbit from the government news wire: “Premier Iain Rankin and his wife, Mary Chisholm, will be visiting Lt. Gov. Arthur J. LeBlanc and Mrs. LeBlanc today, July 17, at 9:45 am at Government House. A media availability will follow.”

Joked Ruskin: “They could be just meeting for a classy brunch.”

My colleague, Tim Bousquet, followed up with an on-point link to the “It’s raining money in Nova Scotia” map he and reporter Jennifer Henderson had created to document the $321 million in pre-election promises Rankin has made in just over a month of Iain Appleseed rambles from Yarmouth to Sydney, all carefully crafted to seed the ground for this electoral moment.

Tim then followed up with an even more telling tweet: “It’s stupid season.”

And so it will be. From now until Aug. 17.

And likely well beyond.

It is worth noting that much of this faux frenzy/position jockeying happens simply because Nova Scotia is the only jurisdiction in the country without fixed election date legislation.

While the lack of such a law is good for journalists — giving us at least something to write about during the dog-day depths of the no-news summer season — the truth is that there is no good reason for the non-law other than that it gives the party in power an advantage over its rivals.

Not that this party in power needs more advantages. Nova Scotia’s electoral board was already well and truly tilted in the Liberals’ favour.

Some of that was inevitable. COVID-19 sidelined the political opposition, shining the spotlight instead on the province’s chief medical officer of public health, Dr. Robert Strang, and on whichever premier du jour happened to sit beside him basking in reflected glory, briefing after briefing.

While you might not expect that following expert scientific advice would, by itself, win voters’ hearts and minds, we live in a political world dominated by Donald Trumps, Jason Kennys, Doug Fords and… well, how could Stephen McNeil and Iain Rankin not benefit by common-sense comparison?

But while McNeil and Rankin plumped up their own positives sitting in front of the COVID cameras, they also did everything in their considerable power to marginalize their opponents even more. The provincial legislature didn’t meet for more than a year. When its members were finally allowed to gather briefly again after Rankin had been elected Liberal leader but not-yet-elected premier, we discovered our new premier was more old school pol than the promised voice of generational change, more corporate apologist than environmentalist. His handlers wasted no time in shutting things down again.

Legislative committees, designed to hold governments accountable, didn’t meet, were emasculated, or the issues they should have been discussing were bulldozed into oblivion by yes-boss MLAs (the same ones who will now seek our votes so they can “represent” us).

It’s not that there were not issues worth discussing. The pandemic deaths at Northwood, the mass shooting, the crisis in long-term care, the lack of doctors, the economy, the Yarmouth ferry…

It’s 10:48 am. Time to click refresh. The election date deal is finally done. As predicted. Anti-climax.

“This province is at a pivotal moment,” Iain Rankin declared as he stood in front of reporters, trying to look leader-like with Government House as his backdrop. “We need to continue to make the right decisions for workers, for seniors, for families and for all Nova Scotians. This election will be about how we best position the province for a strong economic recovery, one that focuses on investments in infrastructure and green technology and renewable energy. And I couldn’t be more optimistic about the potential of this province.”

Of course.

What happens now?

Don’t hold your breath. “An election” — as here-and-gone Conservative Prime Minister Kim Campbell once infamously but correctly explained  — “is no time to discuss serious issues.”

The real reason we are going to the polls in the middle of August is because the Liberals hope, and believe, no one will be paying attention.

“People are checked out with the summer,” explained Dalhousie University political scientist Lori Turnbull in an interview with the Chronicle Herald, “We can finally do things. Asking people to switch on to provincial politics for a while is probably… Not everybody is going to do that.”

Which means? We may be looking at voter turnout that bottoms even the record low turnout in 2017 when only 53 per cent of us cast a ballot.

If that happens, the Liberals will probably be very happy.

Stephen Kimber

Stephen Kimber is an award-winning writer, editor, broadcaster, and educator. A journalist for more than 50 years whose work has appeared in most Canadian newspapers and magazines, he is the author of...

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  1. “The real reason we are going to the polls in the middle of August is because the Liberals hope, and believe, no one will be paying attention.”

    Sneaky. Just like being found “innocent” of an ancient second drink driving charge.

    This province has one Progressive party which doesn’t look ready to govern just yet and two pretty much interchangeable conservative ones who would like to continue the fabulous winning streak Nova Scotia has enjoyed over the last few decades thanks to their Neo-liberal policies – well, winning if you’re wealthy enough to profit from it, not so much if you’re struggling to make ends meet. Interestingly while there are lots more low income voters in our widely considered poor province, the parties that benefit the top income earners always win.

    I’d like to make 3 helpful electoral suggestions

    1. All private donations to people running for office should be banned,
    All elections should be publicly financed and that should be backed by jail time. Acceptable candidates should be funded directly, not political parties.

    2. Voting should be compulsory, backed up by stiff fines without a reasonable excuse like a medical certificate.

    3. We should replace our First Past the Post ballot that allows some people to win a riding despite 2/3 of its constituents voting against them. I propose a Ranked Ballot that requires 50%+1 votes to win. Those who favour one of the many flavours of Proportional Representation should check out how well that has worked for Israel lately.

    4. The last line on every ballot should always read “None of the above” by law.
    Should a riding prefer none of the noble offerings above, provision should be made for Elections Nova Scotia to appoint a non-partisan representative to look after their interests pending the next election. This is a logical necessity IMHO, since right now if you don’t want any of them and write that on your ballot or mark no box, the minimal input sought from you once every 4 or so years will be ignored.

    5. Election days should be fixed well in advance, like other provinces.

    Yes, these are broad strokes and need to be fleshed out in detail.
    I would expect political parties who are doing quite nicely thank you the way things are now will undoubtedly oppose them and their fans will fall into line.

    My notion of democracy is that power should reside with voters, not political parties.

  2. This is going to be a “throw the bums out” election which happens when 1 party has been in too long, Liberals by going in summer hoping to avoid the inevitable

  3. I have just sent the following to a large section of my email address book.

    https://youtu.be/3QhRIzLKpp4 (a Youtube video explaining the media silence around issues of climate.)

    I probably don’t need to send this Youtube link to you as I believe most of the people I know have above average awareness of our present climate “predicament”. I’m now saying, when you vote, it HAS to be for the climate and grandchildren. There are too many people who are believing the wrong stories on a looming series of catastrophes that will decimate the very corporate structure that is trying to hide them and take the rest of the planet down at the same time.

    Alan Payzant

    I detest chain mail and mass mailings, but, this has to get in the minds of as many people as possible, as quickly as possible. We’re out of time for a slow reduction in harm to the environment. We are at the tipping point. Please forward.

    1. Alan, I so much agree with you. Please, please, please, powers that be (aka electorate) do not give us a majority government which will opt for what they see as easiest, the status quo. None of the other issues, important though they may be, hold a candle to the Climate Catastrophe humans have already unleashed upon the planet.

  4. It is quite possible that a news item comes to the fore and causes a change to the preferred narrative. Why vote for a party led by a man who cannot bring himself to openly admit to two errors of judgement and chooses to make a false claim of innocence ? I shall vote for the incumbent in my riding.