"We can't allow things that are inaccurate to stand." — The Word of Our Dan, February 19, 2008.

Monday, June 08, 2009

Must-see TV

Once upon a time, this corner thought that Quebec had the most fascinating provincial electoral math and geography of any province. And heck, it probably still does, but for the past decade, another province has been giving it a serious run for its money. What was once a staid, traditional two-party system, where party affiliations, a political science survey questionnaire once famously gleaned, were imparted at conception, has broken open into a competitive three-party electorate. Every corner of the province, from its biggest city to the outlying rural regions, has seen its electoral patterns churn in a series of hotly-contested and exciting elections. And tomorrow night, that province goes to the polls again, for the fifth time in eleven years.

Here then is the official labradore viewer’s guide to watching the Nova Scotia 2009 election results. Polls close at 7:00 p.m. Atlantic Time.

BELLWETHERS: Eastern Shore. This district has reliably voted for the eventual winner of the seat count (or in 1998, the popular vote) in every Nova Scotia election since 1970. (2006: PC 46%, NDP 41%).

Bedford: The district with "Bedford" in its name has voted for the governing party every time since 1978. (2006: PC 42%, Lib 34%, NDP 21%)

Hants West: Has voted government since 1956, with the exception of 1993 and 1998. (2006: PC 35%, Lib 34%, NDP 29%)

Lunenburg Centre: Has voted government all but twice since 1970. (2006: PC 49%, NDP 34%)

Lunenburg West: Has voted government all but once since 1970. (2006: PC 43%, NDP 39%)

Guysborough-Sheet Harbour: The district with Guysborough County in it has voted with the government since the Buchanan landslide of 1984. (2006: PC 41%, NDP 38%, Lib 20%)

Kings South: Had an NDP hiccup in 1984, has voted with the government ever since. (2006: PC 42%, NDP 35%, Lib 20%)

These three districts have been recent bellwethers, having gone with the government in each election since the PC implosion of 1993, and the rise of three-party electoral politics later in the decade:

Antigonish — 2006: PC 48%, Lib 31%, NDP 19%

Colchester North — 2006: PC 51%, Lib 26%, NDP 20%

Inverness — Not likely to maintain bellwether status with a party leader and incumbent Premier running in it — unless, of course, he wins. 2006: PC 70%.

At the start of the campaign, Guysborough-Sheet Harbour, Hants West, and Kings South were on the strategic priority lists of all three parties, either as target-holds or target-pickups. At the end of the campaign, the NDP is said to be leading or strongly competitive in all three.

Compare this list to the CBC Nova Scotia Votes handy-dandy leader tracker.

WHAT TO WATCH FOR — NDP: The N.S. Dippers finished 2006 in second place, confounding the pundits who thought that they might eke out a minority government. As it turns out, it may have been a case of victory delayed, rather than denied. Coming out of 2006 with 20 seats to the PC’s 23, the NDP was well-positioned for further gains. It would only take two seats to flip from the Tories to the Dippers, even with no other seat changes, for the NDP to top the seat count.

The two lowest-hanging fruit for the NDP to pick up from the Tory column are Guysborough-Sheet Harbour and Lunenburg West. Eastern Shore, Hants West, Hammonds Plains-Upper Sackville are the other districts where the Tories defeated the NDP by 6% or less of the popular vote in 2006. The early going in these districts will tell the story: substantial NDP gains in most or all of them, and it will be a very early night.

Further afield, the difference between a simple NDP majority government, and big honkin’ NDP landslide, will be found in districts like Truro-Bible Hill, Pictou Centre, Bedford, and the Kings triumvirate. Kings South, home of the genteel, granola-crunchin’ university town of Wolfville, has a bit of an NDP history, having once gone orange even in the face of the Buchanan Tory juggernaut of 1984. The swings shown in the recent polls would notionally put even more-traditionalist and staunchly Tory Kings North into play for the NDP. Can the NDP finally sweep Pictou County by taking Centre, John Hamm’s old seat? And can they make further inroads into their unheld seats in industrial Cape Breton (South, and West; Glace Bay) or metro Halifax (Preston and the Bedford Basin seats)? They also seem poised for at least one or two outlier wins in districts with “North” in their names: Cape Breton North, Kings North, Colchester North.

Those seats will make the difference between “NDP MAJORITY” and “NDP LANDSLIDE” on the front page of Wednesday morning’s Chronicle-Herald.

WHAT TO WATCH FOR — TORIES: Fiddler MacDonald is rumoured to have spent most of the weekend trying to save the furniture in his home district and other staunchly Tory beats. That’s never a good sign, especially since, as noted above, before Fiddler came along, Inverness had something of a bellwether tendency.

If the Tories were hoping to build on their 2006 minority, and parlay it into a majority, their path to majority would have run through the rural ridings of Pictou East, Queens and Shelburne, and the Halifax city, suburban, and exurban seats of Preston, Waverly-Fall River-Beaver Bank, and Halifax Citadel. Of these, only Preston would be a pickup from the Liberals: all the rest would have to be at the expense of the NDP. And the NDP are polling at bruising levels in metro Halifax; seem poised for gains, not losses, on the South Shore; and are even on the offensive in the industrial small-urban corridor that stretches from Pictou County to Stanfield-Truro International Airport. It is almost inevitable that the voters will take Rodney out behind the woodshed tomorrow. It’ll be the South Shore, rural Cape Breton, and the north-central mainland highway towns that decide whether the once-proud PC Party of Nova Scotia will be worth the ensuing leadership contest, or reduced to a 1993-sized rump (or worse.)

What “North” is for the NDP’s attack, “West” is for the Tories’ defence: the fate of incumbent ridings like Cape Breton West, Hants West, and Lunenburg West will be the fate of the party and its ten years of Tory rule in Lobsterland.

WHAT TO WATCH FOR — LIBERALS: At the start of the campaign, the Liberal team made a play for government, a goal that has eluded them since Russell MacLellan’s extremely pyrrhic, extremely minority, and decidedly unvictorious “victory” of 1998. That plea didn’t work. In the dying days and hours of the campaign, the message seems to have morphed into a play for displacing the Tories, especially in rural seats. That just might work.

Of the ten easiest seats for the NSLP to pick up from its 2006 results, seven were Tory held after 2006. To be sure, “easiest” is a very relative term: only four of them were lost by 10% or less. Only three of the ten “easiest” would be at the expense of the NDP, and none of the three — Shelburne, Pictou East, or Cape Breton Centre — seem terribly likely to tilt anything but orange this time around. In order to win even a slim majority government, the Liberals would have to overcome losses of up to 28% in eighteen districts, including such unlikely areas as Truro-Bible Hill and peninsular Halifax.

For the Liberals to displace the Tories in opposition, they have to make gains on one flank of the Tories, while the NDP chow down on the other. The likeliest targets for Liberal pickups would be in rural Cape Breton and the neighbouring eastern mainland (Victoria-The Lakes, Antigonish, Guysborough, and Cape Bretons West and North.) Unfortunately for them, the NDP is almost bound to block the way in Guyborough, and are increasingly competitive in the Antigonish and some of the Cape Breton Island seats.

In metro Halifax, the Liberal “musts” are holding Preston and Clayton Park, while eking out a win in traditional bellwether Bedford. Winning all three in the face of NDP domination of the Warden of the North is a tall order. At the same time, if the Liberals can hold most of their existing seats, especially its rural ones, and pick up a few flukes due to a rural Tory implosion (Yarmouth, Argyle, Kings North, something with the Cumberland or Colchester in its name), then the displacement will happen – and the Liberal caucus will be worth leading into 2013. On the other hand, if the Liberals lose any of their western Annapolis Valley bastion, it will be as part of an absolute province-wide epic blowout for the NDP.

Happy election night!



At 5:18 PM, June 09, 2009 , Blogger Mark Greenan said...

Great analysis! Thanks.


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