Lib­eral dom­i­nance wan­ing in At­lantic Canada

Cape Breton Post - - EDITORIAL - Jim Vib­ert Jim Vib­ert con­sulted or worked for five Nova Sco­tia govern­ments. He now keeps a close and crit­i­cal eye on pro­vin­cial and re­gional pow­ers.

The end came not with a bang, but a whim­per this week when a big chunk of the Lib­er­als’ At­lantic fortress slid slowly into the Saint John River.

Just over three years ago, Justin Trudeau’s Lib­er­als won all 32 seats in At­lantic Canada and, a few months later in New­found­land and Labrador, Dwight Ball’s Lib­er­als ousted the in­cum­bent Pro­gres­sive Con­ser­va­tives, turn­ing the re­gion a monochro­matic Grit red.

A year from now, the po­lit­i­cal map in At­lantic Canada will be a lighter shade of rouge, where it’s red at all.

The change in the po­lit­i­cal pal­ette got started, al­beit halt­ingly, in New Brunswick where, by de­fault, the Con­ser­va­tives re­placed the Lib­eral gov­ern­ment on Fri­day.

The Pic­ture Prov­ince’s some­what be­fud­dled and be­fud­dling elec­torate was un­able to pro­duce a de­ci­sive re­sult in Septem­ber, giv­ing the Lib­er­als the most votes but one seat fewer than the Con­ser­va­tives.

The Lib­er­als couldn’t sus­tain a mi­nor­ity gov­ern­ment, so now it’s Pre­mier Blaine Higgs and the Tories’ turn to try, with help from an anti-bilin­gual pop­ulist out­fit called the Peo­ple’s Al­liance that elected the three MLAs the Con­ser­va­tives need to cob­ble to­gether a bare ma­jor­ity in the leg­is­la­ture.

Over the next 12 months, the re­gion’s 32 seats in Par­lia­ment will be con­tested in a fed­eral elec­tion, and vot­ers in Prince Ed­ward Is­land and New­found­land and Labrador will pass ver­dicts on their pro­vin­cial Lib­eral govern­ments. Nova Sco­tians won’t vote provin­cially un­til 2021, when the Lib­er­als’ skinny two-seat ma­jor­ity will be on the line.

The 2019 fed­eral elec­tion is shap­ing up as a ref­er­en­dum on the Trudeau gov­ern­ment’s car­bon-pric­ing plan, op­posed ve­he­mently by Con­ser­va­tives. Out­side of Nova Sco­tia, which has a cap-and-trade regime, East Coast Lib­eral govern­ments are re­luc­tant to put a price on car­bon, too.

That leaves most of the re­gion’s 32 Lib­eral MPs swim­ming against a tide of op­po­si­tion to car­bon pric­ing that seems cer­tain to in­clude P.E.I.’s and pos­si­bly New­found­land’s Lib­eral govern­ments.

New Brunswick is al­ready out of the na­tional car­bon-pric­ing plan and is one of four prov­inces Ot­tawa has said will face a fed­eral car­bon tax.

A po­lar­iz­ing is­sue like the car­bon tax will put seats in play, in­clud­ing some in At­lantic Canada. Plus, more than a few At­lantic rid­ings were swept up by a red elec­toral wave that won’t be re­peated a year from now when seats can be ex­pected to re­vert back to the Tories or NDP, re­gard­less of the bal­lot ques­tion.

Two pro­vin­cial Lib­eral govern­ments in At­lantic Canada face vot­ers next year, although un­der very dif­fer­ent po­lit­i­cal cir­cum­stances.

While Dwight Ball’s New­found­land gov­ern­ment has ex­pe­ri­enced its share of trou­bles, in­clud­ing mem­bers who breached the House of As­sem­bly’s code of con­duct and now sit as in­de­pen­dents, it seems to have over­come all that, and climbed back to the top of pub­lic opin­ion polls. The elec­tion is a year away, but the Lib­eral gov­ern­ment’s re-elec­tion seems more likely than not.

Prince Ed­ward Is­land is an en­tirely dif­fer­ent mat­ter. For the first time, a third party – the Greens – have emerged as a se­ri­ous con­tender on the Is­land and are lead­ing in most re­cent polls.

Is­land Con­ser­va­tives, who haven’t gov­erned since 2007, are in search of a new leader and although Lib­eral Pre­mier Wade MacLauch­lan is in his first term, his party is start­ing to show the wear of more than a decade in of­fice.

Both the Is­land Lib­er­als and Con­ser­va­tives op­pose a car­bon tax, while the high-polling Greens sup­port a price on car­bon. That could make for in­ter­est­ing three-way races and set the stage for the Is­land’s first non-ma­jor­ity gov­ern­ment since 1890 when the Con­ser­va­tives and Lib­er­als tied with 15 seats apiece.

Car­bon pric­ing is less an is­sue in Nova Sco­tia, where the Lib­eral gov­ern­ment has de­liv­ered a con­sumer­friendly cap-and-trade pro­gram.

The prov­ince’s Con­ser­va­tives have been gain­ing on Pre­mier Stephen McNeil’s Lib­er­als in some re­cent polls and may yet get a bump in pop­u­lar­ity that ac­com­pa­nies a new leader. Tim Hous­ton won the Tory lead­er­ship in late Oc­to­ber.

The wild card in Nova Sco­tia is Pre­mier McNeil’s fu­ture. While he’s said he plans on run­ning for a third term, the pro­vin­cial po­lit­i­cal play­ground is rife with ru­mours that he’ll step down be­fore that 2021 elec­tion.

With fed­eral and pro­vin­cial elec­tions a year or more away, any­thing can hap­pen. But, at this mo­ment in time, it looks like Lib­eral dom­i­nance in At­lantic Canada is near­ing the end of its cur­rent run.

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