The benefits of delaying the election in Nova Scotia

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Those eager for an election as soon as possible are forgetting that the result is likely to be minority government and a high risk of a return to the decades-long muddles we've been trying to put behind us.

Both government and opposition are misfiring. The huge number of undecideds in the polls is an indication that the public is looking for more clarity, but it's getting less as every little thing erupts into a spitting match.

In the name of calm and proper governance, let there be another budget, and an election next spring regardless of how unusual it is to go the full five years.

In the public interest, both sides need to clarify -- dramatically, I would say.

For the NDP, what would do it is this: Premier Darrell Dexter takes one for the team and resigns, to be replaced by either Graham Steele or Maureen MacDonald.

The NDP, after all, has got the big stuff rolling in the right direction. Finances and the health-care system are under some semblance of control and the civil service has been tightened up.

These were the big issues in the last election. With these in hand, the NDP should be cruising to a second majority.

The reason it isn't is the rough and impatient political habits of the premier himself, which first put off a good part of his party and then the public. Most alienated party members are apparently back thanks to moves on the environmental front and the sobering thought that the party might lose, but the public is harder to coax.

Both Dexter and the party know this and have been madly trying to make up on a number of things, but when an election is dangling, everything suddenly looks suspiciously like a patch job.

Steele, originally the finance minister, has been sent out to lend his name to various fixes -- notably the Yarmouth ferry. This simply underlines the point: Had Steele's consultative and farther-seeing political instincts prevailed from the beginning, the NDP would likely be back in port with another majority by now.

At any rate, if Dexter fails to come up with a new majority -- a tall order at this point -- he's likely finished anyway.

Either way, if we need more time to let the NDP work up its final tally, it's even more true of the opposition parties, notably the Liberals with their perch atop those fragile polls showing more than 50 per cent undecided.

Here's the big problem with the opposition. They had been virtually invisible, in the period between the last election until about 14 months ago, when the Liberals first showed up ahead in a Corporate Associates poll -- a result of dissatisfaction with Dexter.

On most contentious issues until then -- the convention centre, the biomass plant, open-pen salmon farming, and others -- they basically agreed with the government. After that poll, the Liberals started madly reaching for hot buttons and found some that launched some fireworks, notably the power rates one.

Both the Liberals and Conservatives are mainly trying to jerk the public's chain on rising power rates. As such, their common motto could well be "back to 1980." That's when the Gerald Regan government was beaten by the John Buchanan Tories mostly because of popular discontent on that issue, which incidentally started the 30-year chain of debt and dysfunction that the NDP was finally elected to fix. On such thin principles, what breakdown would be starting anew this time?

The Liberals are obviously hoping that an election will occur before the needle of public attention turns to them and exposes their limitations. Yet it would be unwise to elect them, especially to a majority, based on what we've seen so far. By definition, one of the opposition parties will come to power eventually, if not at the next election then at some future one. Would it not be to the parties' long-term advantage, as well as in the public interest, to demand that they strengthen their case?

The timing is up to the government, of course. But it's right to hesitate. Hesitating until next spring would give it more time to make its case. It would give the opposition the same opportunity. And for the confused electorate, perhaps a better fix on what the options are.

Ralph Surette is a freelance journalist living in Yarmouth County. This article was first published in the Chronicle Herald.

Photo: Matt Jiggins/flickr

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