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Red flags for Nova Scotia Liberals in next provincial election

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Photo: Government of Newfoundland and Labrador/flickr

Could the answer to the pressing-to-pundits question -- why hasn't Stephen McNeil called the much-anticipated-by-pundits fall provincial general election? -- be... "Halifax Needham."

Last week, the NDP's Lisa Roberts, a former journalist and community activist, convincingly won that north-end Halifax riding with 51 per cent of votes in a byelection. McNeil's chosen standard-bearer, Rod Wilson, the executive director of the high-profile North End Community Health Centre, garnered a dismal 33.6 per cent.

There are, of course, historical explanations.

The NDP have held this seat for the last 18 years.

And yet... In 2013 -- the year the Liberals swept into power -- the NDP's popular, long-serving MLA, Maureen MacDonald, barely retained her seat in a 277-vote cliffhanger. (And, with all due respect to Roberts' potential as a politician, she is -- as yet -- no Maureen MacDonald.)

ThreeHundredEight.com, the political polling site, currently shows McNeil's Liberals commanding the support of an incredible, unbeatable 62.1 per cent of voters province-wide. Needham, as the CBC's national poll analyst, Éric Grenier, noted last week, "should be one the Liberals would comfortably win."

They didn't.

You could also make the argument low voter turnout -- 32.5 per cent -- renders the result relatively inconsequential as a predictor of general elections to come.

True, but remember Stephen McNeil deliberately chose the end-of summer, pre-Labour Day weekend, suppress-the-turnout date, believing his party would benefit. And, as Grenier reported in a post last week, "the Liberals lost almost twice as many individual votes as the New Democrats did."

Which means?

That's the question. And perhaps the answer, too.

While public polls tell one story, political parties depend on more in-depth private probing to understand voters' real intentions.

The Liberals' overwhelming poll numbers certainly run counter to their actual job performance. Consider the Yarmouth ferry, Pharmacare, the film tax credit, confrontations with public sector workers, etc.

Could many of those who tell pollsters they support the Liberals be simply parking their votes while they assess the pre-election performance of the NDP's new leader, or the more compassionate conservative, new-look Jamie Baillie?

Is that the red flag for McNeil's Liberals?

Everyone, including Stephen McNeil, knows election campaigns often write their own, poll-destroying narratives. Just ask Stephen Harper.

This article first appeared in Stephen Kimber's Halifax Metro column.

Photo: Government of Newfoundland and Labrador/flickr

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