What’s Next? Evaluating the NDP Win in Nova Scotia

By Luke Unrah

So the NSNDP won the provincial election. It was landslide win really, over 45% of the vote and 31 out of 52 seats. Some of the districts won by the NDP shocked party members and supporters. Seats like Cumberland North, Colchester-Musquodoboit Valley and Kings North, which were not even thought to be in play, went to the NDP fairly early in the night. There were also several disappointments including losing two-term MLA Joan Massey in Dartmouth East to the very right-wing city councillor Andrew Younger and losing the working-class communities of Halifax Clayton Park to the incumbent Liberal and Cape Breton North to the incumbent Conservative.

But the important question for the Left in Nova Scotia is ‘What’s Next?’

The Right wing is cackling with glee with the results. The Chronicle-Herald, long the mouthpiece of the Halifax business community, had been predicting an NDP majority government for days. News Director and right-wing crusader, Dan Leger, wrote prior to the election, “All signs suggest we are ready for change and tomorrow night, Darrell Dexter and the New Democratic Party will become our new governors.”

The morning after the election, Marilla Stephenson, another right-wing columnist, wrote, “It took years of patience and persistence, but ultimately it was Darrell Dexter’s softening of the New Democratic Party’s sharp socialist edges that boosted him into the premier’s office.” The Right is working hard to ensure the NDP become co-opted by the province’s business elite.

But it was Ralph Surette, a comparatively more progressive columnist compared to his colleagues, who articulated the sense among many party members when he wrote that questions about the party’s direction were already “coming mostly from the left wing of [Darrell Dexter’s] own party.”

It has to be said quite clearly that the NSNDP was never a socialist party. At best, it represents some vague social democratic and state capitalist policies – at worst it is a small-l liberal party. So on the one hand, there are high expectations of the new NDP government among various social movements, especially among labour movement activists and anti-poverty activists. On the other hand, the student movement and the environmental activists have been burned by the party too many times and there seems to be a sense that this will be business as usual.

The election of an NDP government, despite its flaws, is a good thing. It means that the attacks on public sector workers’ Right-to-Strike will stop. It means that attempts to privatize public health care and education will stop. It means that various pieces of progressive labour legislation will be brought forward. But to achieve these gains and more will require mobilization from below.

When NDP governments are elected, there ceases to be a left-of-centre voice in the Legislature. As a result the government only hears from two right-wing parties and a host of other business interests who meet with government regularly. In order to achieve even the most basic of social gains, the Left needs to be loud and active in pushing the NDP, proposing policy alternatives, and mobilizing the people.

The progressive forces in Nova Scotia are not currently in a position to launch any kind of offensive. Major amounts of time and resources have gone into defensive struggles over the last decade and this has left our movements weak and disheartened by major losses. Reorganizing left-wing forces in Nova Scotia will take time. The Nova Scotia Federation of Labour, the Canadian Federation of Students, and the five District Labour Councils, have the biggest roles to play in rebuilding the left and preparing to mobilize on a progressive platform. These organizations are the largest democratic and popular movements in the province and they also have access to resources that smaller social movements do not have, including staff, print shops and money.

The NDP win gives left wing forces in Nova Scotia time to pause, regroup and start thinking about what steps to take. The worst course of action would be to sit down and say that the NDP can handle all of the problems and we don’t need to lift a finger. The NDP win is a call to action to which the Left must respond forcefully.