By Chad Bowie
Could an avalanche of bad news for some of Nova Scotia’s political leaders result in dramatic changes to the electoral landscape in our province? It just might.
On Tuesday, voters in Sackville-Cobequid will elect a new MLA. It’s widely assumed to be a two-way race between the NDP’s Lara Fawthrop and the Progressive Conservative’s Steve Craig, who currently sits on Halifax Regional Council. Having held the seat for 35 years, the NDP is playing defence.
A loss in Sackville-Cobequid would be devastating for the party and could mark the beginning of the end for NDP leader Gary Burrill. It’s worth noting the NDP already lost a seat last week when Truro-area MLA Lenore Zann bizarrely declared her intentions to seek the federal Liberal nomination in Cumberland-Colchester. She will now sit as an independent in the Nova Scotia House of Assembly.
Zann says her departure has nothing to do with Burrill, but she’s done little in recent months to buoy his leadership.
Burill is not without critics within the NDP. Many feel his unabashedly socialist politics have pushed the party too far to the left of the spectrum, making the NDP an unlikely choice for everyday Nova Scotians. If the NDP loses the by-election and the anti-Burrill crowd within the party decides to speak out, the dippers could be on the hunt for a new leader.
Meanwhile, on the Liberal front, Stephen McNeil’s polling numbers continue to crater. A new Angus Reid survey puts the Premier’s job approval at an abysmal 16 per cent. The Premier insists he intends to stay on the job for the foreseeable future and will lead his party into the next election.
Remember, he has to say that. Otherwise he would see his status reduced to that of lame duck.
Regardless, the Premier may soon find he has little choice but to say goodbye to the province’s top job. Given his terrible job approval numbers, the Premier may feel compelled to step aside in the coming months and give his Liberal Party the opportunity to renew itself ahead of the next general election.
Worse, nervous Liberals who fear for their jobs may be inclined to pressure the Premier to take his leave publicly. If McNeil is considering leaving, he would be wise to make his intentions known before he’s embarrassed.
All that to say, there’s a real possibility that both the province’s Liberal and NDP leaders will exit stage right (or maybe left, in Burrill’s case) in the coming months.
Ironically, that could make relatively untested Tory leader Tim Houston the most experienced party leader in the next election campaign.
At that point, things would get interesting – and all bets would be off. Strategists and political operatives who are already fast at work building their campaign plans would be sent back to the drawing board. Such a reset would be a fascinating development for political junkies. And, while it would certainly come with some headaches, could ultimately benefit the parties, too.
An NDP leadership race would give the Dexter-era moderates another chance at power and would remind voters of the party’s existence, something that appears increasingly important given the Green Party’s rise to prominence nationwide.
A new Liberal leader would afford that party the chance to make nice with some of its loudest critics, like teachers, government employees and film workers, ahead of the next general election. A fresh coat of paint and a sunnier demeanour may be enough for the Grits to squeeze out a third term.
The Progressive Conservatives are happy with things the way they are now. McNeil is unpopular, Burrill is invisible, and Tory leader Houston appears to be enjoying a burst of momentum.
Still, revitalized Liberals and New Democrats would force the Tories to think outside the box and work even harder to win government. The challenge of defeating renewed opponents may even force Houston to take some calculated risks on the policy front.
If the Tories were to pull off a win, hindsight would surely see them thankful for the challenge.
With everything happening on the federal scene, it’s easy to forget about provincial politics here in little old Nova Scotia. However, a quick glance reveals a political landscape far more volatile than it initially appears.
Buckle up. A wild ride could be just around the corner.
Chad Bowie is a long-time conservative political strategist. He is also a direct marketing and political consultant. He owns Chad Bowie Consulting. He can be reached at email@example.com