Future of Nova Scotia NDP uncertain as byelections expected for previously held ridings

Click to play video: '2 byelections, general election loom large over future of N.S. NDP party'
2 byelections, general election loom large over future of N.S. NDP party
WATCH: The last few years haven’t been kind to the Nova Scotia New Democratic Party. Jeremy Keefe has more. – Feb 4, 2020

With their ranks having dwindled from seven after the last general election to four with the resignation of Dave Wilson, Lenore Zann and most recently Tammy Martin, the Nova Scotia NDP caucus has experienced one loss after another.

Wilson held the Sackville-Cobequid riding for 15 years before stepping down in late 2018. A byelection held last June handed the constituency over to Steve Craig and the Progressive Conservatives in a close race where the party finished second.

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But while the times are obviously tough for Province House’s third party, the as-yet-unannounced byelections could not only help the NDP regain a substantial portion of their caucus, it could signal a reverse in trend.

“I think they have a strong base,” said Howard Ramos, Sociology and Social Anthropology Professor at Dalhousie University.

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“And what the polling is showing is they have their base but not a lot beyond that base.”

Ramos indicates that byelections traditionally have lower voter turnouts, meaning they aren’t always the perfect measure of a riding.

Click to play video: 'NS NDP Leader, Gary Burhill, visits Global News Morning'
NS NDP Leader, Gary Burhill, visits Global News Morning

But reclaiming two out of three of the seats they held this session of the legislature is even more vital, considering it would ensure their caucus has representatives outside HRM.

“It’s really important to watch what’s going to happen in Cape Breton,” Ramos explained.

“That’s going to signal whether or not the NDP are going to be able to build around that and some support in rural areas, which is going to be very key to their success if they’re going to have success in their next election.”

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Ramos believes broader appeal geographically is one element, while drawing in new voters is another, citing a need to bring in a younger vote to complement strong support from middle-aged to older Nova Scotians.

That, he says, will come down to highlighting what makes the NDP different from the province’s other parties, as well as the NDP of the past.

“Their bigger competition is really about being able to distinguish themselves from the Liberals and the Progressive Conservatives and to be able to re-brand themselves from the Dexter government that was defeated.”

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Although the byelections are yet to be called, the NDP has already pegged their candidates in both Truro-Biblehill-Millbrook-Salmon River and Cape Breton Centre, with Dalhousie Associate Professor Kathleen Kevany and Cape Breton Regional Municipality Councillor Kendra Coombes, respectively, earning the nominations.

How that preparation will affect their attempts to regain those seats remains to be seen, but Ramos says don’t be surprised if the voters in those ridings cast similar ballots as they did in 2017.

“I think in Nova Scotia, they’ve probably hit their plateau,” he said.

“They haven’t been losing that much support within their polling in the last little while.”

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