Campaigns matter. It’s the mantra that political operatives and pollsters live by. It’s true.
When the election was called, many polls showed the Progressive Conservatives trailing the incumbent Liberals by more than 20 points, but despite the circumstances, Tim Houston led a highly focused and effective campaign, tackling the healthcare system that has dogged the province for decades. His concentrated effort highlighted supports to alleviate family doctor shortages, improve mental health services, and bolster long term care facilities.
In contrast, Iain Rankin’s Liberals struggled to grasp any fixed narrative throughout the campaign, seemingly from the point of view that the new Premier simply deserved a majority mandate by default. Conducting an uninspiring campaign from the very start, the Liberals failed to give Nova Scotians hope. Even the New Democrats, running to the left of the Liberals, ran on a bold vision of affordable housing, facilitated by rent control and other measures to ensure affordability coming out of the pandemic.
Now looking at the federal election landscape, it is important to recognize the different forms of conservatism around Canada, and particularly how they compare with the movement at the federal level. In Canada’s Maritime provinces, conservatism takes shape in what is colloquially referred to as ‘Red Toryism’. It is a form of conservatism that favours more progressive social policy, but responsible fiscal management, although deficit spending is still acceptably employed under appropriate circumstances. In this case, as people look toward the post-pandemic future, Houston’s PCs committed to completely overhauling the province’s healthcare system, and Nova Scotians made clear at the polls that they were willing to spend the money and buy into this vision.
Still, Tim Houston made a clear effort to differentiate between his Progressive Conservatives and the federal Conservative Party of Canada. Often emphasizing the “progressive” in “Progressive Conservative” on the campaign trail, as well as clarifying that he himself is not a member of the federal party, Houston reassured Nova Scotians that his party is devoted to serving the province in a unique style distinctly tailored to them.
While it may be true that Houston’s momentum may not translate to the federal level, this isn’t to say that Nova Scotians won’t vote Conservative – it just means that the provincial campaign won’t be the reason they do. See, the east coast is one of the last remaining regions in Canada where the electorate still heavily considers substance and policy of campaigns rather than capitulating to the general sentiments of the rest of the country. This is largely a result of the historical rivalry between progressive conservatives and moderate liberals in the region, but it is also telling of the unfortunate reality that the Maritimes are more often than not neglected by the federal government.
However, the unpredictability of the maritime electorate is further spread amongst several provinces that, despite often being treated as a singular regional unit, are each actually quite unique. That said, the regional struggles are all exaggerated by the lack of federal attention and meaningful partnership with provinces and stakeholders. It is precisely for this reason that fiscal mismanagement often hits the east coast the hardest, ensuring voters keep a close eye on monetary and economic policy proposals.
Additionally, Conservatives provide a springboard for the eastern provinces to secure their own respective futures in such a way that is not consistently dependent on federal subsidies and unproductive spending. Instead, by securing access to critical infrastructure and innovative social services, Conservatives offer a future to those on the east coast that is founded in opportunity and innovation, free from the federal spending leash.
Although Conservative leader, Erin O’Toole is based in Ontario, his military experience serving out of Halifax, Nova Scotia gives him a unique local advantage over his political opponents who have very little, if any personal connection with the region. Also of note is the number of qualified candidates who have stepped up to run under O’Toole’s Conservative banner. Among them are former Mayor of St. John, Mel Norton, Dr. Stephen Ellis, former Nova Scotia MLA, Eddie Orrell, former Minister of Aboriginal Affairs in New Brunswick, Jake Stewart, former Minister of Health in Prince Edward Island, Doug Currie, and former executive director of the Newfoundland and Labrador PC Party, Sharon Vokey.
With three out of the four maritime provinces having been put through provincial elections during the pandemic, most of the electorate is already tuned in to the constantly changing political landscape. As such, it is expected that voters on the east coast will play an important, and likely decisive role in the outcome of the federal election. While it is still early in the campaign and the east coast has not yet garnered much attention, it is certain that the provinces where the polls close first will make their voices heard.