For me, the sweetest, saddest moment of last Tuesday’s election night lasted not much more than a moment. And it didn’t happen until the tail end of the first hour of Wednesday morning.

Sometime after midnight, I gave up on the TV broadcast. At that point, the CBC decision desk still couldn’t say for certain whether we would have a minority or majority government, only that it would be Liberal. Although they’d been repeating that like a mantra since 9:35 pm, I’d continued to binge-watch/wait in hopes I’d get the answer to that critically important last question. Finally, one or the other of Tom, or Amy, or Paul, or Graham — or perhaps all of them in chorus — declared one too many times it wasn’t over yet.

They said that because… well, because there was nothing else left for them to say. Time for bed.


I’d already heard Gary Burrill make his great-night-for-the-NDP concession/victory speech at a time when it looked like his party would end up with eight or nine seats, and hold the balance of power in a minority government. He told his cheering supporters he would support whichever of the two other parties was prepared to commit to “investing in people.”


I’d watched too as Jamie Baillie stood with his wife and two daughters at the podium in Springhill drinking in the chants of “Jamie! Jamie!” Baillie already knew he would not become premier on this night, but it was also clear he and his party had done far better than the early polls forecast, and… well, after a year or two of a Liberal minority, there would be another election and then, who knew…? In the short term, he declared with some certainty, there would need to be “major changes” in whatever budget Stephen McNeil’s Liberals brought forward now, with more resources for health care and mental health and…

I reluctantly snapped off the set, went upstairs. I would find out what finally happened — and what it would mean — in the morning. Like the rest of the sane world.

But when I got to the bedroom, I had my iPhone in my hand. It had the CBC Radio app on it. I could listen to the live coverage… just check-in one last time before sleep. Why not?

The first sound I heard was the muffled skirl of a bagpipe. The CBC radio host, Don Connolly, explained to his listeners that Stephen McNeil had just entered his curling rink headquarters in Bridgetown and would soon address the crowd and the province, even though the final majority-minority outcome was still in doubt.

As I listened to the cheers and imagined the scene — the premier, like Baillie, surrounded on stage by his family — CBC news announcer Sandy Smith cut in. There’d been yet another change in the party standings, he said, and Stephen McNeil’s Liberals were now in “majority territory.”

(Local Xpress)

“Wow! What a night!”

Stephen McNeil, sounding only slightly shell-shocked, had begun his speech. Within seconds, it was clear he wasn’t aware of what had just been announced. He was giving his minority government speech. “Democracy at its best…” It was like we had been thrust into the middle of a movie in which the audience knew a critical piece of information the actor on the screen did not. McNeil declared he was grateful for the support he and his party had received, but he understood too that many Nova Scotians had also given “Jamie and Gary” — Jamie and Gary! — “support for their vision. I accept that, and I will work with them to make this province all it can be.”

It was a sweet/sad moment, a moment about the pragmatic, collaborative minority government that might have/could have been… if not for a few hundred votes here or there in just a few critical ridings.

And then the moment was over. Four more years…

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 neo-liberal parties in this election (Libs and PCs) together won just over 75% of the vote which is not good news for progressives.”

    A very important point.

    Darrell Dexter liked to portray himself as a ‘conservative progressive’ – a social democrat with fiscal competence. He made attractive promises that looked impossible in hindsight (like not raising taxes, always balancing the budget and keeping underutilized rural ERs open), but one of the main reasons I think he won in 2009 was that he was widely seen as a pragmatist who moved along the business of the House despite holding the balance of power as opposition leader rather than play the usual stupid partisan.

    Many within his party were angry that Dexter’s government had betrayed long standing core NDP principles, and slagged him with the nastiest name they could think of. They called him a Liberal.

    The party grassroots replaced him with Gary Burrill who looked more like and old time NDP leader. I fear that in addition may also see a return to old time electoral results as the permanent number three party in the House, with milquetoast muttering that there’s nothing wrong with being able to make minor tweaks to the policy of somebody’s else’s government on those rare occasions where the planets align to hand them the balance of power. Personally, I call bulls$hit. Either you are in it to govern or just go home.

    So Gary will sit in Province House as the Member from Halifax Chebucto, finally seen and heard, his message amplified by another 6 NDP MLAs, mostly women. I’m pleased for them all. Such as they are, the New Democrats are the only true progressive party in Nova Scotia, no matter how the Liberals or Tories position themselves at election time.

    That said, they have always had difficulty explaining what their vision of social democracy meant in nuts and bolts terms to the average voter. They were always easily dismissed by their rivals as tax and spend socialists and wrongfully compared with East Germany, Cuba or the USSR. Gary Burrill began this election by promising to run up another $966m in government debt in order to make needed social investments. IMHO He failed to convince the majority of those who bothered to vote why this was needed and why he could be trusted to manage such a massive sum without wasting it (a sad NS government tradition).

    Here is that classic NDP problem. Feeling so close to government, Jamie Baillie was also prepared to spend even more (mostly on highways rather than people). Thing is, such big spending oddly sounds more credible coming from the Tories, party of bankers and management.

    Gary and his team have laudable objectives (although I would make fixing health care THE priority, while we still have it). They need someone with serious fiscal credibility to craft their plan (what a pity David Wheeler didn’t make it). They need to make the case that underpins “We can do this together”.

    Until then, the resounding message of the McNeil government will be “No, we can’t”
    We can’t afford decent education. We can’t afford to fix public health care…

    After all governing like that has worked so well for the last 25 years, hasn’t it?

    1. Me too.

      Might still be possible with a Chester-St Margarets recount, plus one more…Waverley-Fall River-Beaverbank (Libs won by only 66 votes AFAIK).

      Fingers crossed…

  2. Excellent column Stephen. It sums up what many of us went through on election night. Yes, just a few hundred votes in a few critical ridings. Yet, voter turnout was at also at a record low of just 53.88% and low turnouts tend to favour the governing party.

    I’d like to think that progressives who oppose right-wing, neo-liberal policies might have changed the result by putting more effort into getting out the vote, except that the first-past-the-post system makes things harder with many votes wasted. The PCs, NDP and Greens got 60% of the vote, the Liberals only 39.5% — and, a majority government.

    On the other hand, the neo-liberal parties in this election (Libs and PCs) together won just over 75% of the vote which is not good news for progressives. A minority Liberal government with the NDP holding more sway could have changed things, but alas, it was not to be.