Thoughts on election timing

Since 1970, four Nova Scotia governments have delayed elections into the fifth year of their mandates. Three of the four got clobbered.

  • In 1978, Gerald Regan’s Liberals went almost seven months into their fifth year, then dropped from 31 seats to 17.
  • In 1993, Donald Cameron’s Progressive Conservatives went almost eight months into their fifth year, and fell from 28 seats to 9.
  • Almost five years later, Russell MacLellan led the Liberals from a commanding 40 seats to a humiliating 19-seat tie with the New Democrats, allowing him to govern only briefly with the slenderest of minorities.
  • In 2003, John Hamm went just 10 days into his fifth year, and came up two seats short of a second majority.

Darrell Dexter’s is the fifth government since 1970 to linger into a fifth year. If my guess is right, and he schedules an election for October 1st or 8th, he’ll have been in power four years and four months.

dexter_4Dexter would not have held off so long but for a terrible string of polls starting in spring of 2012, when Stephen McNeil’s Liberals surged into a first-place tie. The latest Corporate Research Associates poll, in June, showed the Liberals with 45 percent of decided voters, to the NDP’s 26 percent, and the PCs’ 24 percent. The N-dips claim their own confidential polls are better, but they’d have to be much better to offer any encouragement at all.

Polls taken between elections may tell you which way the wind is blowing, but they don’t tell you how hard. That last CRA survey found 55 percent of respondents undecided about how they would vote. People just haven’t turned their minds to the question yet.

That’s why I don’t think Dexter will call an election before Labour Day. To win a second term, the NDP needs to win the campaign. A plurality of voters needs to decide that Dexter looks, sounds, and acts more like a premier than McNeil, whose crowd-pleasing but benighted policy proposals, especially on energy, may not hold up under election scrutiny.

For that to happen, voters need to be paying attention. They won’t do that in the sweet summer days of August.

Even then, it may be too late. There’s a lot of anger out there—some of it warranted, some of thoughtlessly peevish. If voters get a notion to throw the bums out, no election timing legerdemain will stop them.


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