‘Dull’ leaders and lack of ‘towering issue’ make for boring Nova Scotia election, political commentator says

As the Nova Scotia general election reaches the halfway point, one of the province’s best-known political commentators is lamenting the lack of excitement around the campaign.

“It reflects a little bit the types of leaders that are on offer,” author and journalist Dan Leger told the Sidebar. “Even by recent Nova Scotia standards, these guys are pretty dull.”

The campaign lacks a “towering issue” to animate voters, he said.

And even on those issues that do have some traction — such as health care, long-term care, and the economy — Leger feels the parties have failed to stand out in the public’s mind.

“They’re all kind of on the same page,” he said. “They’ve got variations of a theme.”

Add to all this the timing of the election — mid-summer, as pandemic-related restrictions are being loosened — and the former parliamentary reporter and political columnist sees an almost perfect recipe for voter apathy.

“It’s tough to engage people at the best of times.” he said. “It’s going to be a very, very low turnout.”

Leger is currently working on a book about former premier Stephen McNeil, who he believes would have “walked all over the opposition” if he hadn’t retired from politics in February.

He said McNeil’s successor Iain Rankin was “so low-profile” when he won the party’s leadership that a longtime Nova Scotia pollster had to phone around to learn more about him.

“When McNeil announced that he was stepping aside, why were the candidates on offer in the Liberal party so poor?” he asked. “It was sad in a way.”

“Rankin, he’s a cipher,” Leger said. “I just don’t know what to think of him.”

As for Progressive Conservative leader Tim Houston, Leger believes he is well-meaning and effective in one-on-one situations and small groups. “But I don’t know that he’s got the kind of charisma and colour that it takes to make somebody really successful in politics,” he said.

Leger sees the NDP’s Gary Burrill as “a really nice guy” whose “heart’s in the right place.” But he believes Burrill is lacking an effective ground game and doesn’t have the “personal dynamism” needed for political success.

In Leger’s opinion, the recent leaders’ debate will have little effect on how Nova Scotians actually vote.

“Out of 40 years that I’ve been covering elections, I can only remember two or three debates that had a ‘You had an option, sir’ moment,” he said, referring to Brian Mulroney’s famous line from the 1984 federal leaders’ debate. “They’re very, very rare.”

With neither opposition leader capturing the public imagination, and with little palpable desire for a change in government, Leger defers to the opinion polls, which have all predicted another Liberal majority.

“There’s not a whole lot on offer for the voters this time around,” he said.