Assessing NDP and Green prospects in Atlantic Canada

Canada’s four Atlantic provinces have voted overwhelmingly Liberal the last two federal elections.

In 2015, all 32 seats in the region went to Justin Trudeau.

In 2019, despite a significant drop in popular support, the Liberals kept 26 seats, while the Conservatives gained four, and the NDP and Greens each picked up one.

The Sidebar spoke with three political scientists to see what we can expect in Atlantic Canada this election, with particular attention paid to NDP and Green prospects in the region.

Nova Scotia

The surprising majority win this week by Nova Scotia’s Progressive Conservatives is not necessarily a harbinger of Conservative Party success in the federal election, says Erin Crandall, an associate professor in Acadia University’s politics department.

“I don’t think you can really take much from the Nova Scotia election and say this is going to foreshadow the federal election, because these two Conservative parties are so different,” she said.

The provincial Tories actually ran to the left of the Nova Scotia Liberals on several key issues, making it difficult to draw many conclusions.

“I wouldn’t anticipate that those who voted PC provincially will necessarily vote Conservative federally, especially when the federal Liberals have historically had such a strong hold on Nova Scotia,” she said.

Former Halifax Needham MLA Lisa Roberts, seen with Jagmeet Singh during his recent visit to Nova Scotia, is considered the NDP’s best bet to win a seat in the province. (Source: http://www.facebook.com/lisarobertshfx).

The NDP was shut out in Nova Scotia in the 2019 federal election and it won only 6 of 55 seats in this week’s provincial election.

But Crandall sees an opportunity for the New Democrats to take back Halifax, a federal riding previously held by former leader Alexa McDonough and Megan Leslie.

Outgoing Halifax Needham MLA Lisa Roberts is the NDP standard bearer in the riding. She’ll be trying to unseat two-term Liberal incumbent Andy Fillmore.

“My impression of Lisa Roberts is that she has been popular as an MLA and that her candidacy is seen as high-profile for the New Democrats,” Crandall said. “I don’t think, if you’re Lisa Roberts, you choose to vacate your position as an MLA unless you genuinely think you have a good shot at that riding.”

According to 338Canada, an independent polling and electoral projections site, Halifax will be a very close two-way race between Roberts and Fillmore.

In fact, the site’s latest projection has Roberts behind Fillmore by less than half a percentage point.

Crandall said the national popularity of federal NDP leader Jagmeet Singh, who recently visited Halifax, may give the local campaign some momentum.

“There is this sense that the party is moving forward,” she said. “In 2019, the goal was to not have a disaster.”

With Canadian election results rolling in from east to west, Crandall sees Halifax as a bellwether for the NDP. “If they can get Halifax, then that’s a good sign their seat count is going to go up,” she said.

While the NDP may have a legitimate shot at picking up at least one seat in Nova Scotia, the Green Party is likely to find itself stuck in neutral or possibly even reverse, Crandall said.

The Green Party has never elected an MP or MLA in the province.

And, although it did double its Nova Scotia popular vote to 11 per cent in the last federal election, the party is likely to suffer at the polls due to leadership controversies, public infighting, and the defection of one of its MPs to the Liberals.

“It’s hard to imagine that the Greens are going to bump up their popular support given the state of the party,” Crandall said.

Voters in Nova Scotia, like in other parts of the country, will be motivated by issues such as the cost of living, affordable housing, jobs, the economy, and climate change, she said.

There is also the high-profile local issue of the Indigenous right to moderate livelihood fishing, although Crandall doesn’t think that will be decisive.

“To my mind, that’s one of the most important federal issues happening in Nova Scotia right now,” she said. “Unfortunately, I don’t think that’s an issue that gets votes.”

Newfoundland and Labrador

Scott Matthews, associate professor of political science at Memorial University, has a bird’s-eye view of what’s expected to be the most contested riding in Newfoundland and Labrador.

“I live in St. John’s East, like a lot of professors at Memorial, and when I look around this riding there’s a lot of people who are progressive-minded,” Matthews said. “This is really the progressive heart of the province, at least in a broad sense.”

The NDP’s Jack Harris represented St. John’s East for nine of the last thirteen years, but has decided not to re-offer.

Mary Shortall, president of the Newfoundland and Labrador Federation of Labour, is hoping to keep the riding in the NDP fold.

“I think Mary Shortall has a very good chance of holding on to the riding,” Matthews said.

“She’s probably the most prominent voice on the left in the province,” he said. “I think she can be really compelling and a really good candidate.”

Mary Shortall, president of the Newfoundland and Labrador Federation of Labour, hopes to keep St. John’s East NDP orange. (Source: http://www.facebook.com/mary.shortall.5)

338Canada is currently projecting the province’s six other seats will remain in Liberal hands. But it has St. John’s East as a “likely” NDP hold and gives Shortall a nearly 10-point lead over Liberal candidate Joanne Thompson.

“If I had to put money on it — and I wouldn’t put a lot — I would probably put some money on the NDP holding on to the riding,” Matthews said.

But it will still be a tough NDP-Liberal fight and the parties’ respective ground games will be vitally important, he said.

While the NDP has had periods of relative success in Newfoundland and Labrador, the Greens have never been competitive in the province.

The party received only 3.1 per cent of the popular vote in 2019, up significantly from the paltry 1.1 per cent it got four years earlier.

The Greens’ much-publicized infighting “doesn’t send a good message about the party,” Matthews said. “My assumption is it also means there may be some problems for the party actually organizing its campaign and getting its messaging out effectively.”

As for a potential issue that would be particular to the province, Matthews pointed to widespread austerity measures included in the most recent Newfoundland and Labrador budget.

“If there is something distinctive that weighs on the minds of voters, it’s going to be the provincial fiscal situation,” he said.

The Muskrat Falls hydroelectric project has been a significant drag on the public purse for years.

A $5.2-billion federal-provincial rescue agreement was announced just weeks before the election campaign began.

“This is something that clearly has been at work for some time,” Matthews said. “But they waited to announce it just before the election.”

New Brunswick

The Green Party’s fight to reclaim Fredericton is shaping up to be the biggest federal election story in New Brunswick.

The Greens won the seat in an extremely close three-way race in 2019. But MP Jenica Atwin defected to the Liberals earlier this year due to internal party strife and a dispute over her position on the Israel-Palestine conflict.

The federal breakthrough followed years of Green growth at the provincial level under leader David Coon, who represents a Fredericton district in the legislature.

“That’s where the movement, for lack of a better word, began with David Coon winning a seat,” said J.P. Lewis, associate professor of political science at University of New Brunswick Saint John. “If the new Green candidate can pull out a victory, some would be said about her candidacy, but a lot would also be said about that spillover.”

That Green candidate is law professor Nicole O’Byrne, who will face off against Atwin for the Liberals, and businesswoman Andrea Johnson for the Conservatives.

University of New Brunswick law professor Nicole O’Byrne is looking to bring Fredericton back into the Green Party fold. (Source: http://www.facebook.com/nicole.obyrne1)

Polls suggest Fredericton will be very tight again this election. The latest 338Canada modelling has the Liberals at 29.8 per cent in the riding, the Conservatives at 28.6 per cent, and the Greens at 28 per cent.

“You could just as easily have the Conservative candidate win this race,” Lewis said. “She came second last time and she’s running again.”

Resentment over Atwin’s defection to the Liberals is a real concern for the incumbent, he said. “I think that’s always going to happen when you have floor-crossings.”

“It’s definitely a tough spot, and I’m sure she’s been doing a lot of explaining while door-knocking,” Lewis said of Atwin. “And there’s an old saying that if you’re explaining in politics, you’re losing.”

Elsewhere in the province, Lewis says the Conservatives are on track to hold their existing three seats while gunning for gains in Fredericton and Miramichi-Grand Lake.

As for the NDP, it’s only ever had one MP and a handful of MLAs in New Brunswick.

The party has become non-competitive in recent years and seems stuck in fourth place.

“I think in New Brunswick, the party’s in a bit of an existential crisis,” Lewis said.

Prince Edward Island

P.E.I. has never elected an NDP or Green Member of Parliament.

While the Greens have become an electoral force at the provincial level — winning 8 of 27 seats in 2019 to become official opposition — the Liberals are widely expected to retain all four federal seats next month.

Cardigan, Charlottetown, and Malpeque are all considered “safe” Liberal ridings by 338Canada. Egmont is “likely” to go to the Liberals, who currently have a 14-point lead on the Conservatives in the riding.

(Editor’s note: This article has been updated to include Miramichi-Grand Lake as a riding J.P. Lewis identified as a potential Conservative gain.)