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With a new leader and shifting economic tides, Nova Scotia's NDP can dream again

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Photo: Tom Flemming/flickr

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October 9, 2013. The morning after the night before.

Nova Scotia's first-ever NDP government had just morphed into Nova Scotia's first one-term government in more than 130 years. The party that began its re-election campaign with 31 of 52 legislature seats hobbled across the finish line with just seven shell-shocked MLAs. Even the party's once do-no-wrong leader, Darrell Dexter, lost both his premier's position and his legislative seat...

Surveying that NDP carnage, anyone who would have dared suggest the party could not merely recover from its existential debacle but be poised to challenge again for power before the next general election, would have -- rightly -- been dismissed as delusional.

That may still be true.

But today -- following last weekend's selection of Gary Burrill as the new NDP leader -- it's at least possible for party members to dream again.

It doesn't begin with Burrill.

It begins with Stephen McNeil. McNeil's Liberals have botched their way through too many crises of their own creation. The film tax credit, seniors' pharmacare... They've arbitrarily slashed budgets for do-good groups that help the province's most vulnerable, bumbled post-secondary education funding, alienated teachers, nurses and public servants and further mismanaged already mismanaged NDP files like the Yarmouth ferry and the Bluenose.

They've done it in the name of the great god of balanced budgets, believing they can cut their way to prosperity -- and re-election. The problem is austerity doesn't work, except for those at the top. And the pendulum of public opinion has finally begun to swing away from a generation of failed neoliberal policies.

Justin Trudeau owes his electoral success, in part, to his damn-the-deficits promise to invest in infrastructure. Bernie Sanders has tapped an equally rich vein of American voter frustration by challenging prevailing economic orthodoxy.

McNeil? His poll numbers have been artificially fluffed up because Jamie Baillie's Harper-Conservative fiscal policies failed to generate electoral traction while the NDP has not had a permanent leader for more than two years.

Gary Burrill -- though still unknown outside inside NDP circles -- seems like a thoughtful progressive who embraces what he calls "social investment" in the economy: "livable incomes," publicly funded post-secondary education, fairer taxation.

Which means we may have a real choice next time around.

That would be refreshing.

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

Photo: Tom Flemming/flickr

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