Following a number of new spending announcements, it looks like Nova Scotia’s 41st general election could be on the horizon.
“I think we’re poised for an election very soon,” Tom Urbaniak, a political science professor at Cape Breton University, told Global News.
“I would not be at all surprised if there is an election call late summer for an election day in September.”
Nova Scotia Premier Iain Rankin took office in February following the resignation of former premier Stephen McNeil.
Since then, the former Lands and Forestry minister has become a familiar face for many Nova Scotians as he took part in regular COVID-19 briefings alongside chief medical officer of health Dr. Robert Strang.
While the Liberal leader hasn’t had much time in office, Urbaniak said his visibility is an asset.
“He hasn’t had the chance to show his management style or to hone his skills across policy issues and sectors, but he is enjoying a profile advantage, especially during the COVID crisis,” he said, noting the profiles of the two opposition party leaders have been “very low” during this time.
“With the House (of Assembly) not sitting, of course, they don’t have the opportunity for that cut and thrust we’d normally see in the parliamentary debate,” he said.
Despite its relative success in keeping COVID-19 numbers low, Nova Scotia’s legislature was the only one in the country that didn’t meet during much of the pandemic, only returning for its full first sitting in March 2021 under a new virtual hybrid model.
The new premier must call an election by spring of 2022, but all signs point to a call much sooner than that.
One of the biggest clues is the influx of new spending announcements from the provincial government.
Between Monday and Friday last week, there have been five spending announcements, totaling more than $21 million. The premier is also scheduled to make two more announcements in Cape Breton on Saturday and another in New Minas on Monday.
While the biggest commitment last week was $18.2 million to boost tourism this summer, the other announcements largely focused on transportation and infrastructure, including $1.1 million announced Friday for planning a new commuter ferry in Bedford.
Other announcements in recent weeks include investments in affordable housing, school upgrades and support for small businesses.
Urbaniak expects to see some more “good news announcements” in the coming weeks.
“Then at some point, the calculation would be made, I think, that now is as good a time as any (to call the election),” he said.
As well, with talks of a federal election potentially happening this fall, Urbaniak said that will make it more likely for the provincial election to be called before that.
“Premier Rankin will not want overlap with the federal election if he can avoid it,” he said.
“The scheduling of the federal election will not take the Nova Scotia situation into account, but certainly, Premier Rankin will take the federal situation into account.”
Advantages and disadvantages
While Rankin is still new to the premier seat, Urbaniak pointed out that Nova Scotia has had a Liberal government for the last eight years, so that would be an advantage for him.
Urbaniak also expects the party to play up Rankin’s handling of the pandemic, especially after successfully bringing new daily case numbers down from the triple-digits the province saw in the spring.
“We’ve seen that to some extent already. The Liberal party has been buying front-page newspaper ads and it has been taking credit for decisions made at the Public Health level, at the bureaucratic level,” he said.
“That shows that yes, they will try to mine the outcome of the COVID crisis to their advantage.”
However, he said there are “weak spots” the Progressive Conservatives and the NDP can point to, including the handling of COVID-19 in long-term care and the fact that the province had a third wave to begin with, when the other Atlantic provinces largely managed to avoid one.
“So the opposition parties do have a narrative that they can go with, even if the debate focuses during the election campaign on the COVID crisis,” he said.
While polling numbers are looking favorable for the Liberals — with the latest Angus Reid poll giving the party an eight-point lead over the Progressive Conservatives — Urbaniak said those numbers can change quickly and should be taken with a grain of salt.
“Polling numbers change, sometimes dramatically, during the course of an election campaign because that’s when the public is most focused on politics,” he said.
Opposition ‘forced to be at the ready’
The Liberal party currently has 45 out of 55 candidates in place for the next election, while the Progressive Conservatives have 41 and the NDP has 38.
In a statement, Progressive Conservative leader Tim Houston said the premier should be focused on COVID-19 rather than “campaigning with millions of dollars of taxpayers money.”
“The last time the Premier lost focus, Nova Scotians got hit with a deadly third wave,” the official Opposition leader said.
“Now is not the time for the Premier to lose focus again. It is our hope that the Premier does not try to call an election while Nova Scotians are still locked down under a State of Emergency.”
Houston said that where Nova Scotia is the only province without fixed election dates, “the opposition parties are forced to be at the ready.”
NDP leader Gary Burrill agreed, saying in a statement that without fixed election dates, “the Liberals can call it when they think is best for them.”
Burrill said he was concerned by Rankin’s plan to cut $209 million in next year’s budget — without saying where — and worried it could lead to decreased spending in health care.
“People in Nova Scotia have worked hard to keep COVID-19 at bay for the last 18 months. They shouldn’t have to face massive cuts just as things are starting to look up,” he said.
Urbaniak said he’s “of two minds” when it comes to fixed election dates, pointing out that while they do allow some time for parties to prepare, they can be “unduly constraining.”
“If we had had a fixed election date law, we would have had an election right in the middle of the third wave of COVID,” he said.