Leaders disagree on which issues will define Nova Scotia election campaign

The leaders of Nova Scotia’s three major parties are in stark disagreement on which issues will define the province’s 41st general election.

“This election is about our economy, recovery, and growth,” Liberal leader Iain Rankin said on social media after visiting the province’s lieutenant-governor to request the legislature be dissolved.

Speaking to media outside Government House in Halifax, Rankin said his party’s economic recovery plan “focuses on investments in infrastructure, green technology, and renewable energy.”

Rankin became Nova Scotia’s 29th premier by winning a party leadership convention in February. He will likely be confronted on the campaign trail with two issues he did not mention: widespread poverty and an affordable housing crisis.

A quarter of the province’s children live in low-income households, according to a December 2020 report by the Canadian Centre for Policy Options. And, despite new affordable housing funding announcements by the Rankin government, advocacy groups say “much more” needs to be done.

Speaking at the Progressive Conservative campaign launch, leader Tim Houston said the election will boil down to a single issue.

“There is one question to be answered in this election: who can actually fix health care,” he said.

“We all know that a key part to fixing our health care system is having a strong economy,” said Houston, who took over the PC leadership in late 2018. “We’re the only party that has a plan to rebuild the economy of this province.”

But part of that plan — the so-called “Better Paycheque Guarantee” — has been condemned by the Nova Scotia Federation of Labour and others as “trickle-down economics” that would deprive the provincial treasury of much-needed corporate tax revenue.

As for the NDP, Gary Burrill said his party plans to fight for the people behind issues such as unaffordable residential rental rates, a lack of mental health services, high child care costs, and climate change.

“This election is about people whose real lives have been made worse by the choices of the past eight years,” Burrill, the only leader who’s previously headed a party during a general election, said on Twitter.

While the party leaders may disagree on the key election issues, pollsters seem to agree on the likely result.

An opinion poll published last month by Narrative Research showed 75 per cent of Nova Scotians were satisfied with the overall performance of the provincial government. Those satisfaction levels were “generally consistent across the province regardless of region, age and household income.”

The poll gave the Liberals 52 per cent support among decided voters, compared to 24 per cent for the Tories and 19 per cent for the NDP. The Green Party, which has never elected an MLA in Nova Scotia, sat at five per cent.

338 Canada’s latest projections give the Liberals a seemingly insurmountable 99.2 per cent chance of forming a majority government.

Meanwhile, over at The Writ, a new Substack offering from former CBC elections guru Éric Grenier, the predictions are less bullish but still in Rankin’s favour.

“The Liberals look like they can hold what they won in 2017 and add a few more seats to their tally to cushion what was a narrow majority win last time,” Grenier wrote. “There are enough close contests, however, that this election could become more competitive very quickly with just a small bump in the polls for the Progressive Conservatives and/or New Democrats.”

The number of seats in the legislature is increasing to 55 this election from the previous 51. That means at least 28 seats are required to form a majority government.

The Liberals won 27 seats in the 2017 election, compared to 17 for the PCs and seven for the NDP.

At dissolution, the Liberals had 24 seats, the Tories had 17, and the NDP had five. There were also three independents and two vacancies.