In the first major electoral upset since the pandemic hit, the Progressive Conservatives will form the next government of Nova Scotia, with Tim Houston leading the province as premier.
The Liberals have been in power since 2013, and previous polling suggested they would win a third term, but Houston’s Tories ran a progressive campaign, focused mainly on health care, and hammered the Liberals relentlessly over their government’s poor record of addressing wait times, access to doctors and services, and few long-term care beds.
The PCs also focused much of their campaign around improving health care, with Houston, a centrist Tory, promising to pour hundreds of millions in new spending into the sector in his first year in power, a pledge that seems to have swayed large swaths of voters.
Despite trailing the Liberals in the polls for much of the campaign, the PCs picked up 31 seats, with lots of support along the southern and eastern shores. The party needed 28 seats to form a majority.
Liberal leader Iain Rankin won his seat in Timberlea-Prospect, but overall, the party lost seven seats. Going into the election, 11 Liberal incumbents resigned, leaving their ridings up for grabs. Several were swept up by the Tories, including Lunenburg West and Hants West, both ridings where Liberal incumbents chose not to run again.
PC candidates also grabbed seats from several Liberal front-benchers, including justice minister Randy Delorey in Antigonish and transportation minister Lloyd Hines in Guysborough-Tracadie.
Meanwhile, Rankin’s campaign was flawed from the start.
During the first week, Liberal candidate Robyn Ingraham stepped down, citing mental health issues. Later, she says she was pressured into the move, and was instead told to step aside by Liberal staffers after boudoir-style photos she had taken previously, became public. That news overshadowed the launch of the party’s campaign, which faltered again when Rankin’s past DUI charges surfaced last month.
Throughout the campaign, the Liberals also offered more fiscally conservative approaches to many issues, especially health care.
Gary Burrill’s New Democrats added to their previous seat count, winning six seats, mainly in the Halifax area. They made rent control and affordable housing a cornerstone of their campaign, two issues which the capital city is struggling to address.
The legislature will also see one independent MLA, though not a newcomer to the job. Former PC MLA Elizabeth Smith-McCrossin was removed from the Tory caucus after encouraging a protest along the Trans-Canada highway that blocked travel in and out of Nova Scotia for more than 24 hours. The blockade was, ironically, in protest of travel restrictions for people entering the province during previous Covid regulations.
Smith-McCrossin ran as an independent, and retained her seat in Cumberland North.
Rankin spent just six months as premier, stepping into the role in February after former premier Stephen McNeil resigned. Despite the poor showing in this election, Rankin says he has no current plans to step down as party leader.