Nova Scotia party leaders

Making sense of the Conservative sweep in Nova Scotia

Angela Giles
1 month ago

As people across the country prepare to head to the polls for a federal election in a few weeks, here in the unceded territory of the Mi’kmaw Nation called Nova Scotia we are reeling from the results of a provincial election held last week.

The outcome was a Progressive Conservative (PC) sweep, with 31 seats going to the PC party, 17 to the Liberals, six to the NDP, and one to an independent candidate. Of the five provincial elections that haven taken place since the pandemic began, this is the first to see power change hands. All have resulted in majority governments.

For the past 12 years, Nova Scotia has been led by a Liberal majority government, most of it under Premier Stephen McNeil (he retired last year and was proceeded by Iain Rankin after a leadership race). 

From a progressive standpoint, the Liberal government has had a dismally poor track record: failing to bargain in good faith with many labour unions, carrying on a legacy of environmental racism, allowing a clear cutting of our forests, neglecting the regulation of long-term care facilities, approving open pen fish farms, promoting and subsidizing the offshore oil and gas industry, failing to take action on affordable housing, approving Alton Gas, relying on public-private partnerships for hospital redevelopment, and on and on.

But we had a few shining lights too, with the fracking moratorium that came into place in 2014, as well as the Boat Harbour Act of 2020, which forced Northern Pulp to stop pumping their effluent into Pictou Landing First Nation’s neighbouring harbour (as they had been for 50 years). Despite immense pressure from industry in both cases, the strength of social movements forced the Liberal government’s hand in instituting progressive policies.

A closer look at the party platforms and candidates

The Liberals’ loss of power was surprising to anyone following the campaign trail. Polling throughout the election predicted the election of a Liberal government – so why the big shift in results?

The election platforms offered by the Liberals and the PCs were not ideologically dissimilar. In fact, many analyses of the election results attribute the PC party’s win to its focus on health care and its big spending promises – things we might have normally expected from the Nova Scotia Liberals or NDP. Meanwhile, the Liberals lacked a campaign focus and were more focused on getting our budget back on track. The party also hurt its credibility when it dropped a female candidate from the ticket because of a few boudoir photos – this, even though the party leader has twice been caught driving under the influence and has still managed to keep his position.

The NS New Democratic Party (NDP) centred their campaign around the issue of rent control – something that clearly resonated in urban centres, which are also the party’s usual strongholds (in Halifax Regional Municipality and Cape Breton Regional Municipality). Voters outside of Halifax and Sydney didn’t connect as well with the NDP and we saw no NDP seats going to rural ridings.

This election had the greatest number of women and gender-diverse candidates running for office in a provincial election, with the NDP leading at 63 per cent. The three major parties also had six candidates each that identified as Black, Indigenous or a person of colour. Among those elected to office were four Black MLAs and 20 women (36% of the total seat). However, there are still no Indigenous MLAs in the Nova Scotia legislature. Elections Nova Scotia had also brought back four seats for so-called “protected ridings” – one in Preston to encourage the nomination of Black candidates in all parties, and three in traditionally Acadian communities.

It's time for electoral reform

The Nova Scotia election results were a clear demonstration of the need for electoral reform. A quick comparison of the number of seats secured by each party versus the popular vote they received provides a stark reminder of the shortcomings of the first-past-the-post system.

Here’s how those numbers break down, according to CBC News:

  Popular Vote Number of seats
PC 38.62% 31
Liberal 36.72% 17
NDP 21.07% 6
Green 2.16% 0
Independent 1.19% 1


This outcome clearly does not represent who the people of Nova Scotia want to see sitting in the legislature. Based on the popular vote, my math tells me the results should be:

PC 21 seats
Liberal 20 seats
NDP 12 seats
Green 1 seat
Independent 1 seat


In this scenario, the voting public would feel more accurately represented and motivated to vote in the next election. Voter turnout has already been dropping over the last several decades, falling to as low as just more than 55 per cent of eligible voters in this last election. Proportional representation could galvanize voters and increase turnout, and the parties would be forced to work together towards the goals that most people want. Trudeau may soon regret his failure to act on his promise to introduce proportional representation while in power.

We need to keep up the pressure

Council of Canadians chapters worked hard to raise issues that had been neglected on the campaign trail. The North Shore chapter worked with Sustainable Northern NS (SuNNS) put out a questionnaire for candidates with questions relating to protection of the French River watershed from a proposed gold mine. The South Shore chapter worked with the Campaign to Protect Offshore Nova Scotia (CPONS) to encourage voters to call the party leaders, demanding they oppose offshore drilling.

We can’t afford to give up the fight in the face of a PC majority. Instead, we need to hold Premier-elect Tim Houston and his party’s feet to the fire on issues like health care and climate. Organize in your communities and be ready to fight against any proposal to privatize health care. We need to also be on guard to oppose the return of Pieridae’s proposed Goldboro LNG or attempts to lift the fracking moratorium, as the PC discussed while in opposition.

Find out more about how you can get involved with Council chapters in NS here, and you can support the going work of the Council of Canadians here.