The question is why. Why — if you believe the polls — is Darrell Dexter’s NDP government heading for an ignominious defeat?
Nova Scotia’s first-ever NDP government was hardly a disaster. It succeeded a Tory government that had careened out of fiscal control, stumbled into one of the world’s worst economic meltdowns, got sideswiped by the collapse of the traditionally vital pulp and paper industry, and still managed to bring the books into balance by the end of its mandate.
Its accomplishments need to be understood in that context. None were major; not all were minor. Its innovative collaborative health-care centres offer a model for efficient future rural health-care delivery.
We won’t know for decades if some of its biggest-ticket and most controversial initiatives — the $260-million-forgivable-if-it-creates-4,000-jobs Irving loan to grease the $35 billion shipbuilding contract and the $1.52-billion Maritime Link hydroelectric project — were wise investments. But those deals at least showed a government thinking long term.
So why do Nova Scotians seem poised to kick them to history’s dustbin?
For starters, Nova Scotians had unrealistically high, often contradictory expectations for our first-ever NDP government. Many expectations — the NDP would govern differently — were self-created, the wounds that followed self-inflicted.
The government botched the MLA expenses scandal, which involved members of all parties and incidents before the NDP took office. But Dexter came across as prickly, defensive, hardly a practitioner of new politics. By the time the NDP brought in tighter, more transparent rules, they’d already squandered their hard-earned “we’ll govern differently” currency.
That may explain why critics inside and outside the party choose to focus more on what the government did they disagree with than what they would likely see as positive accomplishments. Business, for example, focuses on first-contract legislation they despise while ignoring cuts to corporate income taxes they champion. For workers, it is the opposite. And, while environmentalists targeted the NDP’s record on the environment, they give the party little credit for its nation-leading efforts to protect the province’s wilderness areas.
In the end, this parsing of good and bad probably doesn’t matter. Political campaigns have a life of their own. The universe unfolds.
This article first appeared in Stephen Kimber’s Halifax Metro column.
Image: Earl Andrew/Wikimedia Commons