Who would you like to see win tomorrow’s provincial general election?

Who should win tomorrow’s provincial general election?

If you answered none of the above to either — or both — of the above, welcome to the club. And perhaps welcome too to that more select group — the none-of-the-above-but-definitely-not-Stephen-McNeil club — which Progressive Conservative leader Jamie Baillie is desperately wooing in the last hours before we vote.

During last week’s CTV leaders’ roundtable, Baillie said he detected “a great desire for change,” that “people are not happy with all the chaos of the last three years.” And then he issued this direct appeal: “For those people who are undecided or leaning to the NDP, I am asking them to take a look at us because we share the same goal.”

Let’s come back to that.

At a gut-check level, Baillie’s pitch takes direct aim at the gnawing fear among many voters that if the anyone-but-McNeil club doesn’t coalesce around one or the other of the two opposition parties, McNeil’s Liberals could not only slip up the middle and back into power but could also — heaven forefend! — even end up with another McNeil no-one-can-stop-me-now majority.


The latest opinion polls do indicate a tightening race. Baillie’s Progressive Conservatives are the primary beneficiary of voters’ rush to the Liberal exits, though the NDP has also improved — marginally — its poll numbers during the campaign.

The Liberals, of course, still lead both the Tories and the NDP, and they are — in the lumpy  popular vote calculus that doesn’t account for what might actually happen in the weeds of every one of the province’s 51 cantankerous constituencies — still in theoretical, scary majority government territory.

So Baillie’s idea has its appeal.

But Baillie’s appeal is less a call for strategic voting — voting for the individual candidate most likely to topple a Liberal in a particular riding — and more a blanket ask for NDP and progressive independents to abandon their traditional values and vote for him in order to rid our governing world of Stephen McNeil.

There is much wrong with that approach, but let’s start with a question: who is Jamie Baillie and where does he really want to lead us?

That seems to depend on which Jamie Baillie we’re talking about. In the 2013 campaign, Baillie was in full-on Stephen Harper mode, promising to dramatically reduce the provincial civil service, cut the HST, eliminate corporate taxes on the first $500,000 of income… in other words, he was all in for cutting our way to prosperity.

Sound familiar?

Or consider Baillie’s view of collective bargaining. In 2012, after talks broke down between Halifax transit workers and the city, Baillie told reporters the premier should lock both sides in his office, “tell them they’ve got 12 hours to work out their differences and if they’re not able to do so, then he’ll settle it himself.”

Sound familiar? Sound like Stephen McNeil’s Liberal government’s my-way-or-the-highway approach to teachers, nurses, public servants?

Somewhere between Stephen Harper’s federal defeat and Stephen McNeil’s blundering from one self-created crisis (Seniors’ Pharmacare) to yet another self-created calamity (the film tax credit debacle) to one more self-created disaster (his treatment of teachers), Baillie re-discovered the progressive in Progressive Conservative.

He toned down the cut-everything rhetoric and became a vocal and widely respected advocate for the province’s film industry, for example, argued for greater support for victims of sexual assault, spoke eloquently about the need for better mental health policies and promised he would (without saying how) negotiate a new deal with public sector workers.

In this campaign, Baillie — always smart, and engaging one to one — has emerged as a kinder, gentler… Stephen McNeil.

But the question is whether Baillie — in the long tradition of political party leaders who campaign from the left and govern from the right — has been truly transformed, or has merely delineated what he believes is a clearer path to power. If that’s the case, we could still end up with a same-old, same-old Stephen McNeil/Jamie Baillie neoliberal, regressive conservative provincial government.

We should be careful what we wish for.

And what of the NDP, the party Baillie wants you to abandon?

The party clearly still carries deep scars — internal and external, legitimate and illegitimate — from its one and only term in office.

When Metro reported last week that current NDP leader Gary Burrill had called Baillie’s appeal to NDP voters to switch to the Tories “desperate opportunism” — the Facebook blowback had less to do with Baillie, or Burrill, and more to do with Darrell Dexter.

“I wouldn’t be so quick to judge, Mr. Burrill,” posted one reader. “Just take a look at Mr. Dexter and his record. Vote Conservative. I am.”

But Gary Burrill is no Darrell Dexter. He’s more a preacher-activist-progressive populist in the Bernie Sanders mode than a pragmatic, middle of the well-driven road, small-l liberal like Dexter. During the Dexter era, in fact, Burrill was among a small number of NDP backbenchers, including Howard Epstein, now Burrill’s official agent, frozen out of cabinet and marginalized by the party’s inner circles.

But as party leader, Burrill — unlike Dexter — has not made impossible-to-keep promises he could both balance the books and also maintain programs. Burrill isn’t even hiding behind the standard-political-response pledge: we’ll balance the books by the end of our first term.

That’s because Burrill sees the role of deficits — and the social role of government — very differently than Dexter — or Baillie, or McNeil.

That probably won’t help him get elected premier tomorrow. The party is still carrying too much baggage from its time in government, and Burrill himself remains unknown to most of the electorate.

But does that really mean you should vote for your local Jamie Baillie wannabe?

Or does Baillie belong in that be-careful-what-you-wish-for box.

My own hope for tomorrow is that we end up with a minority government of any stripe — an outcome that would more accurately reflect our pox-on-all-their-houses current collective angst.

Besides, our best governments in the last two decades have been minority governments in which all the parties were forced to compromise and work together in order to get anything done.

How do we get there?

Certainly not by abandoning our principles in a way that could inadvertently give us a Tory majority.

Real strategic voting — casting your ballot for the non-Liberal in your constituency you think has the best chance of winning that particular riding — is one option.  Voting for the best individual non-Liberal candidate in your riding — and letting the broader universe reveal itself as it will — might be even better.

Since none-of-the-above won’t be on the ballot tomorrow, we need to look for the least worst option — and hope.

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. I liked Dexter better in opposition than as premier (I’m speaking politically here, not personally. I really like him as a person.). Nonetheless, his government was neither as progressive as his supporters would like us to remember, nor as disastrous as his opponents would have you believe. Why should Burrill apologize for the previous NDP government’s actions or inaction? By that measure, I want Baillie to apologize for John Hamm’s deep and drastic cuts in his first mandate (Baillie had a lot more to do with that as chief of staff than Burrill did as a backbencher), or McNeil should apologize for “Savage Days”.

  2. There is a real risk that the hammering the NDP took in 2013 has not bottomed out. Quite possibly they could be wiped out in Province House on Tuesday. I don’t think it’s the most likely outcome, but it’s certainly possible.

    There is a standard class of lies that all parties on the outer like to share among their members and even a bemused public. It begins with something like “After we form government…”. This is heard within the ranks of the NDP, and less risibly among the Tories who at least have a slim chance of realizing it.

    The NDP will not be forming government this time around, nor likely the next. For them the priority must surely be to re-establish themselves after their brutal 2013 defeat, and in particular to get their new leader Gary Burrill a seat in the House, where he can finally be seen and heard.

    If their numbers at least stay the same or even go up, if they can keep real troopers like Lenore Zann, Dave Wilson, Denise Peterson-Rafuse and Lisa Roberts, hang onto Dartmouth South and maybe regain Dartmouth North while installing Gary they will have accomplished what they really needed from this election.

    If they can pull that off, they have to start doing some serious arithmetic and planning for the next time around. I hope David Wheeler – ex dean of management at Dalhousie and President of CBU – can join their number. He should know a thing or two about how this is done. If they can achieve that, a future NDP might start looking less like a bunch of well intentioned activists and more like a real government in waiting. Then the Liberals and Tories may have a rival to fear.

  3. Agree with most of Trevor Parsons’ comment on the toxicity Dexter infused into the Nova Scotia NDP brand, but disagree that the current leader, Gary Burrill, cannot – could not – have supplanted it. And it’s not too late to do it, even at this eleventh hour. Dexter’s iteration of NDP government hangs over party candidates like a bad lingering smell, the way heavy cigarette smoke can permeate clothing, despite that Burrill has articulated a different interpretation in keeping with traditional social justice ideology – what voters thought they were getting in Dexter.

    Burrill has been careful in his rhetoric, his promises, using reasonable, constrained statements. He understands language and uses it appropriately. But he’s not done the one thing he’s needed to do, and he must do it now: he must publicly repudiate Dexter’s version of NDP government. If he or any of his campaign staff read this, they may think, may say, “Oh, but he’s done that during his campaign through his platform.” Not good enough. Not nearly good enough. He needs to say it publicly, clearly. He has the advantage of being perceived as a moderate man of integrity in the way he’s conducted himself, and for those for whom religion and clergy still have cachet, he’s a man of the cloth. Please do it, Mr. Burrill. It has to come from you, not surrogates. It need not be a direct, vicious attack – you’re articulate – it can be something akin to, “I see leadership and NDP government different from that of Darrell Dexter; my governing principles, my priorities will be social justice in accord with the historic tradition of NDP, I will not sell out to …. “

    1. I agree, Donna. Too late for an apology, but some sort of distancing is still required. Many voters were disappointed by the NDP government and, needless to say many of them were first time NDP voters.

  4. I don’t think it’s possible to over estimate the damage done to the Nova Scotia NDP by Darrell Dexter and his NDP backroom enablers. You compare Burrill with Dexter, who you describe as a “pragmatic, middle of the well-driven road, small-l liberal”. Stephen, you are correct that Burrill is no Dexter, but I think your description of Darrell Dexter is completely off base. He was, and apparently still is, someone without an ideological compass or anything resembling a political philosophy.

    From day one Dexter displayed the craven instincts of a politician who had only one goal; to get re-elected. He threw money at every corporate entity (including Joe Ramia’s Rank Corp and the Irving Shipyards) that asked – at the expense of social programs and other policies that would have benefited ordinary Nova Scotians and ironically, would have been more helpful to the economy than the doling out of massive amounts of corporate welfare.

    Gary Burrill and the new generation of NDP members could not be expected to get out from under the debacle that was the first and only NDP government in Nova Scotia history in just one election cycle.. One can hope that the NDP will not see their defeat at the polls as a repudiation of Gary Burrill and his principled stand on the issues that effect us. Rather, the NDP should double down on those issues and re-double their efforts at outreach, so they will be ready for the next election when it finally becomes clear to voters that the Liberals’ austerity fuelled policies benefit only the most privileged in our society.

    1. I’m not going to try to change your mind about the Dexter government although it had many positive and progressive accomplishments that are never acknowledged.

      But when you mention “throwing money at the Irving Shipyards,” I want to ask you what you would have done? The shipbuilding contract, more than a generation of work worth hundreds of millions of dollars, required provincial investment to meet federal criteria. Would you have preferred to see Nova Scotia sit on its hands while British Columbia and Quebec — both with the financial support of their provincial governments — fought it out?

      Nova Scotia won the contract by loaning money at commercial rates, with payback in jobs or money if the jobs targets aren’t met. The new shipbuilding work has been identified as the single biggest economic boost for the province. That’s especially important with Liberal job losses compared to Nova Scotia’s three best years for jobs — NDP years 2011, 2012, 2013.

  5. One option that I have used (including early voting last week) is to spoil your ballot.
    Does not accomplish a lot by itself but imagine if a good percentage of ballots were spoiled. The parties want the votes and would MAYBE make a change to governing for the longer term good of the Province and all the people, not just for the good of their next trp to the polls.