Can Dexter do what Clark and Redford did? Overcome a 20 point deficit?

Looking at the latest poll in the Nova Scotia provincial election, it looks like NDP Premier Darrell Dexter may have his chief challenger, Liberal Stephen McNeil, right where he wants him — 20 points ahead with three weeks to go.

A survey of 400 Nova Scotians published today finds that that 48 per cent are ready to vote Liberal while 28 per cent would vote for the incumbent premier. Jamie Baillie’s Progressive Conservatives are attracting 23 per cent of the support.

Dexter, on the campaign trail Friday in Hammonds Plains, NS, had only one comment about this poll: “Keep calm and carry on.”


Dexter can take comfort in the fact that, in the last couple of years, a lot of incumbents have come back to win even after being down by a few touchdowns in the first quarter.

With three weeks left in the British Columbia provincial election campaign that was held earlier this year, Christy Clark and the incumbent Liberals were measured to be down by 22 points to challenger Adrian Dix and the NDP. On election day, Clark and the Liberals smoked the NDP and increased their majority in the legislature. It looked about as bleak for Alison Redford and her incumbent Progressive Conservatives in the spring of 2012 when she was down by 17 points with three weeks of campaigning to go. Redford, like Clark, went on to win a smashing majority.

Anomalies? Maybe. Pollsters no longer credible? Possibly.

But consider this: Starting with Stephen Harper and the federal Conservatives in the federal election of 2011, we have had provincial elections in B.C., Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec, PEI, and Newfoundland and Labrador. In every single contest but one, the incumbent won. In the only contest in which an incumbent lost — that would be Jean Charest in Quebec — the margin of defeat was razor thin.

And it didn’t matter if the incumbent campaigned from the left or the right. The common denominator among all those incumbents was that their core pitch for re-election was to scare voters away from considering change.

Two-and-a-half years ago, Harper started this trend. Here he makes a pitch on CTV’s Question Period on the Sunday before the 2011 federal vote (my emphasis):

“I think the party that is far closest to the mainstream views of this country is this party — the Conservative party — and all the other parties have gone off, way off on an economic direction that Canadians don’t support and I think Canadians understand is increasingly risky.”

Fast forward to the 2013 Nova Scotia election: “Let’s not risk turning back”, Dexter says in one campaign ad.

Just ahead of the writ period, the Nova Scotia NDP released a trio of “Not Worth the Risk” ads.

Sound familiar? It sure did to editorial cartoonist Michael de Adder:

Michael de Adder - Risk

We’ll also be watching this contest in Nova Scotia to see if voters in that province stick with their usual patterns or whether they break some new ground. In 2009, of course, voters broke new ground by selecting an NDP government for the first time in the province’s history. The usual pattern now would be for Nova Scotians to give the Dexter government one more term. After all, no government has not received at least a second term since 1882 when the Liberals kicked out the one-term Progressive Conservative government of John Thompson. (The Liberals would then rule the province until 1925, a record in Canada for political longevity that will be matched next year by Alberta’s Progressive Conservatives).

So while the Dexter government has history working in its favour so far as getting a second term goes, the NDP will have to buck recent patterns if it hopes for another majority. That’s because Nova Scotians have not handed out back-to-back majority governments since John Buchanan’s PCs in 1988. (Buchanan, in fact, won majorities four times in 1978, 1981, 1984, and 1988).

We have comprehensive coverage of the Nova Scotia general election on my television program, Battleground which airs M-F at 6 pm ET, 8 PM ET and again at 11 pm ET on Sun News Network. Tune in!

One thought on “Can Dexter do what Clark and Redford did? Overcome a 20 point deficit?”

  1. What no commentator has noted is that NS has continuous daily voting. Any elector can vote at any time when the electoral office is open. IE 40 hours a week until the official election day.

    Announcements including polls will have a different effect under these circumstances than in other jurisdictions.

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