Since the Atlantic coast province of Nova Scotia joined Canadian Confederation in 1867 only the Liberal and Progressive Conservative parties have held the reigns of government there. That changed on election night June 9 when the labour-based New Democratic Party emerged with 31 of 52 seats on the strength of 45.3 per cent of the votes cast.
Voters reduced the PC's to 10 seats. The Liberals, with 11 seats, form the official Opposition. The turnout was at a record low of 58.8 per cent.
The first-ever NDP Premier in Atlantic Canada, Darrel Dexter, a lawyer and former journalist, pledged to balance the budget, despite the global economic crisis. He also promised action on rising gas prices, health-care wait times and emergency room closings.
Under Dexter, the party won 15 seats in 2003, and 20 seats in 2006. Prior to 1998, the NDP was mired in a distant third place.
The self-serving lesson NDP officials want everyone to draw from the breakthrough in Nova Scotia (population 940,000 in 2005) is that conservative, 'good government' promises and dogged electoral perseverance bring victory.
The truth is that working people in Nova Scotia, and across Canada, are looking for something better. Otherwise, they would have replaced Rodney MacDonald's Tories with Stephen McNeil's Liberals, as they have done so often in the past.
Keep in mind that the conservative policies of the British Columbia NDP helped to re-elect the right wing B.C. Liberal government of Gordon Campbell in mid-May.
The Nova Scotia election result challenges the claim that voters are turning to the right everywhere.
But the question remains: what will the NSNDP do with this victory? If it makes Capital pay for the crisis created by big business and the banks, the NDP will win the admiration and support of the working class and poor. If, like the treacherous Bob Rae-led NDP government in Ontario 1990-1995, it places the burden of 'recovery' on the shoulders of workers, women, youth and the unemployed, it will leave little behind other than wrecked public services and a very bad taste.
Another important lesson from the Ontario Rae-days is that labour and the social movements should not give the Dexter team a honeymoon of any duration. Now is the time to press Nova Scotia's first NDP government to tax the rich and move quickly to provide jobs, housing and decent incomes for all who need them. -Barry Weisleder