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What federal players can learn from Liberals' Nova Scotia win

Nova Scotia Liberal Party leader Stephen McNeil reacts near supporters after his majority election win in the Nova Scotia provincial election in Bridgetown, Nova Scotia October 8, 2013.

DEVAAN INGRAHAM/REUTERS

Nova Scotians elected a majority Liberal government on Tuesday, throwing out Darrell Dexter and his New Democrats after only four years in office.

Here are four lessons out of that loss for the federal NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair, as well as the federal Liberals and the country's political pollsters.

1. The bad news for Thomas Mulcair

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Nik Nanos, a public opinion researcher with Nanos Research Group, believes Tuesday's defeat of the Dexter team in Nova Scotia, after only one term as a government, is a significant setback for the Mulcair team in Ottawa.

"Nova Scotia, in a certain respect, is a bit ahead of the curve in terms of NDP breakthroughs in non-traditional areas … like rural areas," he says, noting that Mr. Dexter's party formed their majority in 2009 by taking ridings in the rural part of the province. Traditionally, the NDP was strong in the urban part of the province around Halifax.

Mr. Nanos says his research shows the fortunes of the provincial New Democrats are tied to the fortunes of the federal NDP

"When we looked at the polling in the last federal election in the areas where (former federal NDP leader) Jack Layton's New Democrats buoyed up, support actually overlaid with many of the ridings that the NDP held provincially in Nova Scotia," he observed.

2. The good news for Thomas Mulcair

Brad Lavigne, the NDP's former national campaign director, doesn't believe there is any correlation.

"I think most observers would be hard-pressed to read too far into what this might mean federally," says Mr. Lavigne, whose book Jack Layton, Building the Orange Wave is about to be published. "I'm certainly not picking up a sentiment that what is driving the vote in the Nova Scotia election is based on feelings toward federal politicians."

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He says that provincial elections take on lives of their own and are focused on issues of provincial concern. "Nova Scotia doesn't have a history of translating its feelings towards the federal party through its provincial vote or vice versa, as is the case … in western Canada or a province like Quebec."

3. The Trudeau effect

Justin Trudeau, the federal Liberal leader, played a prominent role in the Nova Scotia campaign. He was featured in ads with leader and now premier-elect Stephen McNeil. And he campaigned with the leader, going into NDP-held ridings to help spread the Liberal message. Liberal candidate Randy Delorey beat incumbent NDP Maurice Smith in the Antigonish riding where Mr. Trudeau had campaigned.

McNeil strategists say Mr. Trudeau's visit was icing on the cake for them – he provided some excitement and energy – but that their ultimate breakthrough was set long before Mr. Trudeau became federal leader.

Referring to the "bromance" between the two leaders, Mr. Nanos says that Mr. Trudeau, given his visits and support, was "personally invested in a Liberal victory." Had it gone the other way, it would be viewed as a step back for Trudeau fortunes.

Mr. Trudeau is giving his third-place party a bit of a boost. The win in Nova Scotia follows the Liberal by-election victory in Labrador last May, just after Mr. Trudeau was elected leader.

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He campaigned there, too, helping candidate Yvonne Jones win a seat in the Commons. Again, it was considered the first test of his leadership.

4. The pollster effect

Pollsters across the country are breathing a sigh of relief today after surveys accurately predicted the outcome. They had suffered black eyes from their wildly inaccurate predictions in the Alberta and British Columbia elections.

David Coletto, pollster for Abacus Data, was the only one to predict the NDP collapse to third place and a Progressive Conservative official opposition.

"Going to sleep easier tonight," said the Ottawa-based pollster after the results were in. His firm continued its polling through the last weekend of the campaign, and was able to pick up shifts toward Jamie Baillie's PCs.

He said Mr. Baillie was well-liked by voters, which helped him when it became clear to voters that the Liberals were poised to win.

"This probably made it easier for some voters to come back to the Tories, their first preference – instead of holding their noses and voting Liberal in order to prevent the NDP from winning again," he said.

If he learned anything from the polling debacle in Alberta that saw the Progressive Conservatives win handily although polls were predicting a Wildrose Party win, it was to keep surveying into the last weekend.

"If any late shifts were happening I wanted to make sure we were picking them up," he said. "I also made sure to do everything I could to determine which respondents were most likely to vote. Our best estimate was the one that took those likely committed voters into account."

Nova Scotians elected a majority Liberal government on Tuesday, throwing out Darrell Dexter and his New Democrats after only four years in office.

Much of the province went red, while Conservatives gained more seats than they lost, becoming the official opposition. Read the related story.

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About the Author
Ontario politics reporter

Jane Taber is a reporter at Queen’s Park. After spending three years reporting from the Atlantic, she has returned to Ontario and back to writing about her passion, politics. She spent 25 years covering Parliament Hill for the Ottawa Citizen, the National Post and the Globe and Mail. More

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