Is elec­tion Lib­er­als to lose?

Clouds are now ap­pear­ing on the hori­zon

Cape Breton Post - - Editorial - David John­son Po­lit­i­cal In­sights

We are now into the sec­ond week of the pro­vin­cial elec­tion and all in­di­ca­tions are that the Lib­er­als are rid­ing high in the polls, that the op­po­si­tion par­ties have their work cut out for them and that this is Pre­mier Stephen McNeil’s elec­tion to lose.

Over the past two years the pro­vin­cial Lib­er­als have en­joyed strato­spheric lev­els of sup­port in public opin­ion polling. Just last Novem­ber, and be­fore the teach­ers’ work-to-rule job ac­tion, a poll by Cor­po­rate Re­search As­so­ci­ates (CRA) showed the Lib­er­als with the sup­port of 56 per cent of de­cided Nova Sco­tian vot­ers. Sup­port for the Pro­gres­sive Con­ser­va­tives stood at 20 per cent and for the New Democrats, 19 per cent.

A sim­i­lar poll by CRA this past March had the Lib­er­als at 44 per cent, the Tories at 28 per cent and the New Democrats at 23 per cent. In just three months Lib­eral sup­port had dropped by 12 per­cent­age points, largely at­trib­ut­able to the teach­ers’ is­sue. But even at 44 per cent, such a level of pop­u­lar sup­port, if repli­cated on elec­tion day, would give the Lib­er­als an­other com­fort­able ma­jor­ity govern­ment.

So far, so good for the gov­ern­ing Lib­er­als. And the bud­get the govern­ment in­tro­duced, just days be­fore the elec­tion writs were dropped, was very much a good news elec­tion bud­get. The deficit has been elim­i­nated, the bud­get is bal­anced and there is more money for vir­tu­ally ev­ery­thing and ev­ery in­ter­est in the province. Mil­lions of dol­lars more for health care, ed­u­ca­tion, trans­porta­tion, in­fras­truc­ture, tourism, arts, cul­ture, eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment, in­dus­trial strate­gies and mod­est tax cuts to boot for both low-in­come Nova Sco­tians and small busi­nesses.

The sun seems to be shin­ing brightly on a Lib­eral pa­rade to elec­toral tri­umph by the end of the month. And the lat­est poll con­firms this sto­ry­line. A sur­vey by Main­street/iPol­i­tics pub­lished on May 4, 2017, shows the Lib­er­als with 42 per cent of de­cided vot­ers, the Tories hold­ing 29 per cent sup­port and the NDP 25 per cent. Even at 42 per cent, the Lib­er­als would win a ma­jor­ity man­date.

But clouds are now show­ing on the hori­zon. In these three polls the trend-line for the Lib­er­als is de­scend­ing while the op­po­si­tion par­ties are gain­ing. And buried in the Main­street/ iPol­i­tics sur­vey are some dis­qui­et­ing num­bers for the Lib­er­als out of Metro Hal­i­fax.

There, the sur­vey data shows a tight­en­ing three-way race with the Lib­er­als in the lead with 28 per cent sup­port, closely fol­lowed by the New Democrats at 25 per cent, and the Tories at 22 per cent. So, keep your eyes peeled on Hal­i­fax.

Out­side of Hal­i­fax, the Lib­eral num­bers are stronger, with them hav­ing a 13-per­cent­age point lead over the Pro­gres­sive Con­ser­va­tives (35 per cent to 22 per cent) and the NDP trail­ing at 14 per cent.

So, the Lib­er­als are in the lead and if the elec­tion were held to­day they would likely win an­other ma­jor­ity govern­ment.

But Elec­tion Day, May 30, is still al­most three weeks away and three weeks can be an eter­nity in pol­i­tics. Elec­tion cam­paigns do mat­ter and the Lib­er­als are vul­ner­a­ble on a host of fronts.

They are the in­cum­bent govern­ment and there­fore they have a record on which they will be judged. They will prom­ise to spend more money on al­most ev­ery­thing but if peo­ple look at the gaps, holes and weak­nesses in poli­cies and pro­grams the Lib­er­als can soon find them­selves on the de­fen­sive.

Tens of thou­sands of Nova Sco­tians have no fam­ily doc­tor; ru­ral Nova Sco­tia and Cape Bre­ton are fac­ing crises in keep­ing med­i­cal spe­cial­ists; ed­u­ca­tion pol­icy is in dis­ar­ray and fund­ing for vi­able post-sec­ondary in­sti­tu­tions and public li­braries is de­fi­cient. Poverty, in­come inequal­ity, eco­nomic stag­na­tion, pop­u­la­tion decline, grow­ing so­cial and eco­nomic dis­par­ity be­tween Metro Hal­i­fax and the rest of the province re­main chronic prob­lems.

This elec­tion is far from over.

“… three weeks can be an eter­nity in pol­i­tics.”

David John­son, Ph.D., teaches po­lit­i­cal sci­ence at Cape Bre­ton Univer­sity. He can be reached at david_john­

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