Having never before formed a government in the province of Nova Scotia but with recent public opinion polls suggesting they are in the lead, the NDP wasted little time in launching their campaign for election, hoping to capitalize on current public discontent with the Progressive Conservatives and the continued low standing of the Liberal Party.
Election signs were already appearing the morning after the MacDonald government's budget was rejected in the Nova Scotia House of Assembly on Monday, and on Tuesday, May 5th over a hundred citizens filed into a small room at the Sackville Heights Community Center to watch Darrell Dexter kick off the provincial election campaign for the New Democrats.
The Community Centre was perhaps an ideologically consistent choice of location for the centre-left New Democrats, who have campaigned in previous years on a commitment to the activities of community groups. The Center houses a number of citizen organizations including a local environmental association, a children's club, several seniors groups and an early intervention program for youth at risk.
With what will no doubt form a main slogan of the NDP in the run up to the June 9th election, Dexter claimed that “it is time for a change” in Nova Scotia after 10 years of lacklustre Conservative performance. While short on specifics himself with regard to NDP plans in the province, the event was heavy on political rhetoric.
“The Rodney MacDonald government can't keep an emergency room open and they can't keep a jail cell closed”, he said. Dexter blamed the Conservatives for the large provincial debt, high electricity rates, increases in service user fees, and crumbling infrastructure.
As the official opposition, the NDP currently holds 20 seats in the Nova Scotia legislature. The Progressive Conservative Party holds 21 seats, while the Liberal Party occupies nine. One seat is held by an independent candidate.
In the district of Hammonds Plains - Upper Sackville, the NDP are pledging to create more jobs, improve health care delivery, expand medical services, increase public transit to more areas, create more affordable child care spaces, and develop safer neighborhoods. Currently a PC Party member holds the district seat.
As the half-hour event drew to a close, the floor was opened to questions from the media. A reporter leaned a microphone in Dexter's direction, looking for a response to the PC Party's mantra that the NDP are “not worth the risk” in Nova Scotia, in the midst of the dramatic current economic recession. The crowd laughed as Dexter made his crafted reply: “I don't know what would be riskier than four more years of the Conservatives”.
The NDP emerged in Nova Scotia and Canada in 1961 after a coalition was formed between the Canadian Labour Congress and the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (Farmer-Labour-Socialist), a social democratic party. Although ultimately unsuccessful the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation ran its first candidates in Nova Scotia in 1933, a year after the founding of the party. In its new form as the NDP, the party gained its first seat in Nova Scotia in 1970.
The Nova Scotia NDP aligns itself with the federal New Democrats. Nationally, the NDP have formally called for an end of Canadian participation in the War in Afghanistan, a renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement, and the abolition of the unelected Canadian Senate.
Although many NDP candidates have been elected in various areas to date, the party has yet to form a government in any province east of Ontario.