From Preston to Cumberland North: 10 ridings to watch in N.S. election

Click to play video: 'Decision Nova Scotia: Tom Urbaniak recaps the weekend on the campaign trail'
Decision Nova Scotia: Tom Urbaniak recaps the weekend on the campaign trail
We check in with Tom Urbaniak of Cape Breton University to recap the weekend on the campaign trail in the Nova Scotia election and look ahead to the final week of campaigning ahead of election day Aug. 17. – Aug 9, 2021

With less than a week left in the race, some ridings in the Nova Scotia election are sure to draw some interest from voters and political party members alike.

Eleven sitting MLAs have chosen not to run during this election and another two — Stephen McNeil and Margaret Miller — resigned before the campaign began.

As well, some ridings have been redrawn or reinstated.

Global News has narrowed down 10 ridings to watch during this election.

Cumberland North

Cumberland North is one riding that got a lot of attention even before the campaign started.

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The incumbent is independent Elizabeth Smith-McCrossin, who was kicked out of the Progressive Conservative caucus after promoting a blockade that disrupted traffic on both sides of the Nova Scotia-New Brunswick border in June.

In early July, she announced she would run as an Independent.

Lori Turnbull, a political science professor at Dalhousie University, said she expects Smith-McCrossin to perform well.

“She is, I think, expected to do quite well in the riding, even though as an Independent it’s really hard because you don’t have the party machine behind you,” she said. “At the same time, she has a lot of support in the riding.”

Smith-McCrossin won with more than 50 per cent of the vote in the 2017 election.

The Progressive Conservative candidate, David Wightman, isn’t as high-profile as Smith-McCrossin. Because of the strength of her candidacy, said Turnbull, it’s unclear how hotly the Progressive Conservatives will try to contest her.

However, even if Smith-McCrossin splits the conservative vote in the area, it’s likely that — in the event of another win — she would continue to vote with the Progressive Conservatives in the legislature, so they can still count on her as an ally even if she isn’t in the party, said Turnbull.

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The Liberals, meanwhile, have recruited a “very strong candidate” for the other parties to contend with. They are running veteran politician Bill Casey, well-known for his tenure in federal politics.

The NDP’s Lauren Skabar, a recent Dalhousie University master’s graduate, is also running in this district.


Richmond is one of the four protected ridings that had its boundaries redrawn for this election. The incumbent is Independent Alana Paon, who was elected in 2017 in the former riding of Cape Breton-Richmond as a Progressive Conservative, but was kicked out of the party two years later.

Previously, Richmond was Liberal Michel Samson’s seat, which he had held since 1998. The Liberal candidate vying for the seat is Mathieu Haley, who Turnbull said has “a lot of ties” in the party.

“Obviously, the Liberals really want the seat back, the NDP have a really good candidate – Bryson Syliboy – and so I think all the parties are really vying for that seat and see it as an option,” said Turnbull.

“I wouldn’t be surprised to see leaders spend some time in that riding before election day.”

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Syliboy is the first Mi’kmaw two-spirit person to ever run provincially in Nova Scotia.

The Progressive Conservative candidate is Trevor Boudreau, a former councillor and the deputy mayor for the Town of Port Hawkesbury.


Preston is another protected riding brought back this election. The district, which includes historically Black communities, was abolished in 2012 and incorporated into the district of Preston-Dartmouth.

But an independent electoral boundaries commission recommended the district be brought back.

With no incumbent, Turnbull said the three candidates from the Liberals, Progressive Conservatives and NDP — Angela Simmonds, Archy Beals and Colter (C.C.) Simmonds, respectively — have a fair shot.

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“Really interesting candidates who all have a lot of profile in the community, and they’re all really out there connecting, doing the events on the weekends, really doing the work on the ground to talk to people,” she said.

The riding is notable for another reason: it’s believed to be the first time all of the confirmed candidates are Black, so it’s guaranteed that riding will have a Black representative.

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While this might illustrate the importance of protected ridings, Turnbull said it’s also the responsibility of the parties to run a slate of diverse candidates.

“There’s a need, there’s a justification, there’s a legitimacy (for protected ridings), but you also need the parties to make sure the candidates they’re putting up reflect that diversity,” she said.

“It’s really up to them, to a large extent, to make sure that that diversity is represented.”

Chester-St. Margaret’s

Chester-St. Margaret’s has a full slate of candidates from the Liberals, the Progressive Conservatives, the NDP, the Greens and the Atlantica Party.

The seat is currently held by Independent Hugh MacKay, who is not reoffering. MacKay won the riding in the 2017 provincial election with fewer than 100 votes.

This election, the Liberals are running former Navy member Jacob Killawee. The Progressive Conservatives are running two-term Municipality of Chester councillor Danielle Barkhouse and the NDP is running actress Amy Reitsma.

Turnbull said without an incumbent, this riding could “go any which way.”

“There’s not a lot of engagement, you can probably guess that voter turnout is going to be lower than usual and it was on a decline anyway,” she said.

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“These ridings that are close could end up making a big difference — not only in terms of the outcome with respect to who’s the premier, but also whether we’re talking majority or minority.”

Jessica Alexander, the interim leader for the provincial Green Party, is also running in this riding, while Steven Foster is the Atlantica Party candidate.

Victoria-The Lakes

Victoria-The Lakes is currently held by the Progressive Conservatives’ Keith Bain, but will be one to watch because it has flip-flopped between the Progressive Conservatives and the Liberals in recent elections.

Bain was first elected for two consecutive terms in 2006. In 2013, he lost the seat to the Liberals’ Pam Eyking, but won it back in 2017 with nearly 60 per cent of the vote.

Prior to 2006, the Liberals had held on to that riding since 1988.

This time around, Bain is running against Nadine Bernard with the Liberals — the party’s first Indigenous woman candidate — along with the NDP’s Adrianna MacKinnon and Independent Stemer MacLeod.

Glace Bay-Dominion

Glace Bay-Dominion is currently held by Liberal Geoff MacLellan, who was first elected in this riding in a 2010 byelection after fellow Liberal Dave Wilson resigned.

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MacLellan announced earlier this year he would not be reoffering. With no incumbent, “anything is possible,” said Turnbull.

“Sometimes when a riding has that strong sense of incumbency, it feels like the result is a foregone conclusion. Voters may disengage, people who might be interested in contesting the riding don’t, just because they feel like there’s no way in heck they’re going to win,” she says.

“So when you get to the point where a person says they’re not going to reoffer … it introduces a sense that you’re not sure what the outcome’s going to be.”

As well, this riding is notable for another, less political reason: all three candidates share the same first name. John John McCarthy is running for the Liberals, John White is with the Progressive Conservatives and John Morgan is vying for the NDP.

“I can’t generate any enthusiasm for that, but yes, all three are named John,” said Turnbull.


Digby-Annapolis is a new riding this election that was created because Clare — another protected riding — became a standalone seat. The protected riding of Argyle is also in this region.

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Turnbull said she would be “genuinely shocked” if Argyle didn’t go to the Progressive Conservatives, and Clare is likely a safe seat for the Liberals.

“Even though we had an election where those protected ridings were not featured, you can look at how those ridings worked over time and you can look at how the vote played out even when the boundaries were redrawn,” she said.

“A stronghold is a stronghold for a riding even if the boundaries are drawn differently.”

Digby-Annapolis, however, is a bit tougher to call because it’s a new riding. It has a full slate of candidates: Jimmy MacAlpine with the Liberals, Jill Balser with the Progressive Conservatives, Michael Carty with the NDP, Jessica Walker with the Greens and Tyler Ducharme with the Atlantica Party.

“Conservatives might have a slight edge there, but that would be the one to watch, I think,” said Turnbull. “It seems a little less predictable to me.”

Halifax Armdale

Halifax Armdale is yet another riding with no incumbent. Liberal Lena Diab, who was first elected to represent the district in 2013, announced last month that she’ll be stepping down from provincial politics so she can run federally.

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In her place, the Liberals have put up a “very strong candidate” in Ali Duale, said Turnbull. Duale emigrated to Canada from his home country of Somalia more than 20 years ago and has worked as a first responder and firefighter for the last 17 years.

“He’s been really present on social media, and he has a great story,” said Turnbull. “He seems to bring a lot of energy to the race, so I think there’s a lot of attention on him.”

The Nova Scotia Green Party is running Jo-Ann Roberts in the riding. Roberts is the former interim leader of the federal Green Party, taking the position after Elizabeth May stepped down, and was also formerly the federal party’s deputy leader.

Turnbull doesn’t believe the race bodes well for her.

“The Green Party is having such a tough time now, and even though this is a provincial election … there’s still a sense that the federal entity of the party casts a shadow over the provincial jurisdiction too,” she said.

“And I think because the party is in such turmoil now, I don’t think anyone really expects Jo-Anne Roberts to win this riding.”

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The Green Party doesn’t have any seats in the provincial legislature.

With speculation of a federal election ramping up, and if the provincial Greens have another poor performance, the federal party might have a tough time electing MPs in Nova Scotia.

“If there was ever a time the Green Party could use a shot in the arm, it’s now,” she said.

“And if we see a provincial election go by with no Greens elected, it sort of solidifies the fact that there’s not much momentum of the party now, even though this is a time where one of the major issues that we’re discussing in the campaign is that of climate change.”

Also running in this district are Richard MacLean with the Progressive Conservatives, Julie Melanson with the NDP and Independent Stephen Chafe.

Halifax Needham 

Halifax Needham is historically an NDP stronghold, but with no incumbent this time around, it could go “any of the three ways,” said Turnbull.

NDP MLA Lisa Roberts announced earlier this year that she will not seek re-election because she plans to seek the federal nomination in Halifax. It would be a major upset if the NDP lost its seat.

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”A lot of these ridings to watch is because the person that held it before is not reoffering,” said Turnbull. “I think it’s likely to go NDP, but I think the Liberals definitely have a shot.”

Suzy Hansen, a grassroots organizer and a new face in provincial politics, is the NDP candidate for this riding.

The Liberals are running public defender Colin Coady and the Progressive Conservatives are running environmental activist Scott Ellis. The Greens are running Kai Trappenberg, the son of former party leader Thomas Trappenberg.


Lunenburg‘s incumbent for this race is Liberal Suzanne Lohnes-Croft, who has held the seat since 2013. Going into the election as a cabinet minister, she’s “in a pretty good position,” said Turnbull.

“You have that added profile, you obviously have the confidence of the leader, so I expect her to do well there,” she said.

However, Turnbull noted that the three major parties are running “very strong female candidates” — including Susan Margaret Corkum-Greek for the Progressive Conservatives and Alison Smith for the NDP — so it’s “an interesting riding to watch from that perspective.”

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The Greens are running Thomas Trappenberg, the former leader of the Green Party of Nova Scotia whose son is running in Halifax Needham. The Atlantica Party is running John Giannakos, a restaurant owner fined for violating COVID-19 rules during the third wave of the pandemic.

This district is also considered a “bellwether” — an indicator of how the election will unfold — since it has elected an MLA from the winning party in the last four elections.

Turnbull, however, doesn’t get too caught up in the concept of bellwether ridings.

“To me, that takes all the fun out of it,” she said. “I like to just kind of look at each riding as its own thing.”

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