On June 9, 2009 — one year ago next week — Nova Scotia voters took a flying leap of faith and fate, sweeping out a tired Tory government, sidelining the faint comeback hopes of a still-recovering Liberal party and handing the keys to office for the first time ever to the New Democrats.
It is probably fair to suggest that Darrell Dexter’s historic majority victory seemed at the time — even to many traditional Liberal and Conservative voters — a hopeful, optimistic sign of change in a province in desperate need of a few.
Today, though, the jury is far from rendering a final verdict on Dexter’s first term. It is equally fair to suggest much of that optimism has dissipated.
What went wrong?
Some of it was inevitable, of course. The NDP’s actual performance could never have matched the sweet imaginations of its most long-suffering true believers, or even the more modest hopes of nervous switch voters.
There is no magic wand to rein in runaway health costs or keep emergency rooms open when there are no doctors to staff them. And governments sometimes make difficult decisions — turning off the taps for the Yarmouth-Portland ferry, fixing the pension mess, deciding whether to fund a new convention centre — many voters won’t like.
The fact the new government almost instantly abandoned its own solemn, cross-its-heart-and-hope-to-die campaign pledge not to raise taxes or cut programs could not help but feed public cynicism, but I think it’s fair to say most of us expected that. And saw it as wiser than the alternative.
What we didn’t expect was that Dexter, so sure-footed in opposition, would lose his common-man touch in office.
His handling of the unanticipated MLAs expenses scandal, for example, was ham-handed.
His own free-spending ways, along with his reluctant retreat from his insistence the public should pay his bar society fees, came to symbolize legislative entitlement at a time when the NDP was trying to be prepare Nova Scotians for much needed tax increases and program cuts.
Thanks to the political distraction/public obsession with the expenses scandal, the NDP has seemed to lose control — not only of its agenda but also of its temper. NDP chief of staff Dan O’Connor’s recent public spat with the Chronicle-Herald over an anonymous posting he made to its website, for example, indicates how frustrated they have become.
This was not the first year the NDP had hoped for either.
If ever there was a time for the NDP to — in the immortal words of Stephen Harper — “recalibrate,” it is now.
– Stephen Kimber, the Rogers Communications Chair in Journalism at the University of Kings College, is the author of eight books.