Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

N.S. NDP a passing fancy; voters give Grits majority

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HALIFAX -- Voters in Nova Scotia dumped the NDP on Tuesday after giving Darrell Dexter a historic election victory four years ago, turning this time to Liberal Stephen McNeil, who swept to power on promises to bring soaring electricity rates under control while putting an end to corporate handouts.

It's been 14 years since the Liberals were in government and McNeil returns the party to its glory years of the 1990s with a majority.

Dexter lost his seat in Cole Harbour-Portland Valley by 31 votes after a tight battle in the Halifax-area riding, an area he represented in the legislature for 15 years. Several of his top cabinet ministers also went down in defeat.

McNeil, 48, overcame a barrage of attacks ads from the NDP who questioned whether he had what it takes to be premier with the tag line: "Stephen McNeil, Not Worth the Risk."

The former owner of an appliance-repair business, who was easily re-elected in his riding of Annapolis, led the Liberals to victory after falling well short in 2009, when the party won 11 seats as the NDP swept the province.

Progressive Conservative Leader Jamie Baillie, who won his riding of Cumberland South, made tax cuts and frozen power rates the central commitments of his campaign. This was the first election as leader for Baillie, a 47-year-old chartered accountant who was once chief of staff to former Tory premier John Hamm.

McNeil ran a safe campaign, offering no great spending initiatives in a platform that promised to chop the number of health districts, cap classroom sizes and reduce spending, except for health and education, by one per cent annually. Roughly at the midpoint of the 31-day campaign, McNeil made whistle-stop visits to ridings in the Halifax area with Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau, the only federal leader to help his provincial counterpart during the race.

For Dexter, the defeat marked a reversal of fortunes since he became the first NDP premier to govern a province in Atlantic Canada. Instead, Dexter's party had the misfortune of becoming the first government in 131 years to be denied a second term in Nova Scotia.

When Dexter, 56, came to power, he inherited a fragile economy and a massive deficit, which he blamed for breaking a key promise when he hiked the harmonized sales tax by two percentage points. The unpopular move was one of several that tested the electorate's patience, including the NDP's failure to balance the budget as often as they promised four years ago.

His party was also stung by the departures of several key cabinet ministers who decided not to run again, particularly in Halifax, the party's traditional base of support.

Dexter sounded almost apologetic from the outset of the campaign, acknowledging when he called the election his government had made mistakes, but he chalked them up to the lessons a party learns when it's new to power.

 

-- The Canadian Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 9, 2013 A11

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