Federal Parties Take Note: PC’s Surprise Win in Nova Scotia Shows Polls Can’t Be Trusted

August 19, 2021 Updated: August 19, 2021

The stunning electoral upset in the Nova Scotia provincial election must have some federal Liberal Party strategists concerned to say the least.

There have been four provincial elections held since the COVID-19 pandemic began. In every one of those elections, the governing party increased its seat counts. Citizens appeared willing to reward incumbent parties at the ballot box for their pandemic management. This trend surely is part of what inspired the Trudeau Liberals to call a snap election this fall.

With the provincial Liberal government being soundly trounced by the Progressive Conservatives in Nova Scotia a mere month before Canadians go to the federal polls, the Liberals must be sweating their decision to call an election at least a little right now.

As with so many elections in the last few years, pollsters have proven themselves to be unreliable in predicting electoral outcomes. Polling had consistently shown the Nova Scotia Liberals enjoying a comfortable lead with one in June indicating a 28-point spread ahead of the PCs. While some recent polling did indicate that the gap was quickly closing in Nova Scotia, no major polls predicted a PC win much less a strong majority.

There is little doubt that favourable polling during the pandemic inspired the Trudeau Liberals to pull the electoral pin to try to grab a majority government. The wisdom of that strategic choice is now in question.

We can’t draw too many direct parallels between the Nova Scotia election outcome and the federal election though. There were some stark differences between that provincial campaign and the current federal one.

The electoral win for premier-designate Tim Houston’s PCs can’t really be considered a victory for conservatives or conservative values. The Nova Scotia PCs pivoted sharply to the progressive side of the electoral spectrum to win the race. Houston promised to outspend every other party with an increase of almost half a billion in health expenditures. There was also a raft of other individual spending initiatives proposed from dog adoption credits to grants for clearing the sidewalks of seniors from snow. Tim Houston’s party proposed the most goodies and it resonated with the most voters. They didn’t win on even a hint of a fiscally conservative platform.

The Nova Scotia NDP under Gary Burrill found a strong wedge issue with proposed rent control that helped keep Liberal gains at bay as well. Housing prices have been booming in Halifax and it has been putting heavy pressure on low- and fixed-income citizens. Burrill’s targeted campaign offering relief from rent increases resonated well with a strong segment of the population. While gains in Jagmeet Singh’s NDP would likely come at the expense of the Trudeau Liberals, federal campaigns don’t typically provide the kind of localized, niche issues that provincial parties can capitalize upon.

Another surprise that came from the Nova Scotia election was the strong re-election of independent MLA Elizabeth Smith-McCrossin.

Smith-McCrossin had been ejected from the PC caucus last June for apologetically taking part in anti-lockdown protests in her constituency. Independent candidates rarely win elections, but Smith-McCrossin bucked that trend by comfortably defeating a star Liberal candidate and sending her PC competitor into a distant third place finish.

I don’t expect that this indicates that we will see a trend of independent candidates elected across Canada by any means. Smith-McCrossin was clearly a very popular local candidate, and she was riding on a very localized issue with provincial border-crossing access in her constituency of Cumberland North. Smith-McCrossin’s election does indicate that the electorate is more ornery with lockdown restrictions than some may expect. We may see some unexpected electoral volatility in some federal ridings as some local candidates capitalize on a citizenry that’s growing tired of restrictions.

We can’t read too much into the Nova Scotia election results but we can’t discount them either. Polling remains unreliable and voters are willing to change party allegiances for the right campaign.

While O’Toole’s CPC hasn’t proposed a spending binge as the Nova Scotia PCs did, his platform isn’t terribly distant from that of the Liberals in spending promises. While a win for the federal Liberals may have been considered a lock just a few weeks ago, we may be just one wedge issue from another electoral upset. Nova Scotia’s election has proven that taking the support of the electorate for granted with a snap election call can be a risky endeavour.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.

Cory Morgan
Cory Morgan
Cory Morgan is a columnist and business owner based in Calgary, Alberta.