THERE IS SURELY a bit of nervous gnashing of teeth in the NDP control tower over new poll results this week.
Spring sessions tend to be hard on a sitting government; nothing new there. So it’s no surprise to see that the NDP majority and Premier Darrell Dexter have taken a hit in public popularity in the Corporate Research Associates quarterly political poll.
But the poll is also a timely reminder to party strategists, especially with a few storm clouds on the political horizon, that it’s one more factor to consider as they move into pre-election mode.
It’s been a spring with all sorts of good-news announcements from the New Democrats. School construction projects, a distant tax cut in the form of a lower HST, more news on programs linked to the federal shipbuilding project, wilderness protection announcements, funding grants for rural businesses the NDP is expending political capital at a high rate.
And it all comes well ahead of the four-year election cycle Dexter says will produce the most likely timing for the next election. That would take Nova Scotians to the polls sometime next spring, just when the NDP is pushing up against its four-year anniversary of taking power.
The potential for a fall election faded with last week’s interim report from the electoral boundaries commission, which threw a wrench into NDP plans to have boundaries redrawn so that a few opposition-held minority seats would be merged with other ridings. Instead, the commission crafted boundaries that would eliminate two NDP seats.
Hmmm. Things are not exactly going according to plan. And even as Dexter delivered an ultimatum to the commission this week — adhere to the 25 per cent variance from the average size among constituencies or else the final report will be tossed — this issue is becoming a no-win scenario for the NDP.
If he allows the minority seats to stand, the premier will look wishy-washy to voters in the rest of the province. If he carries through with his threat to introduce legislation that wipes out the minority seats in predominantly francophone and black areas, I expect to see busloads of Acadians protesting at Province House this fall.
Meanwhile, all sorts of other nasty items are coming into play. The federal EI rules will hit rural Nova Scotia hard, which is why Dexter is trying to out-shout the other Atlantic premiers with complaints to Ottawa. New equalization rules are coming. The military is going to revisit its plans to spend billions on new hardware, which could slow the positive impact of the shipbuilding project.
On the home front, Nova Scotians are angry about electricity rates, gas prices, education cuts and high taxes. And unions are winning all their contract negotiations with the province.
The NDP is just a slim two points ahead of the Liberals in the poll while Dexter has slid behind Liberal Leader Stephen McNeil in popularity and is barely ahead of the Tories’ Jamie Baillie. For the first time since 2009, the three parties are close together in polling.
All those rural seats that went NDP and helped boost the party to power — think Cumberland North, Truro-Bible Hill, Eastern Shore, Guysborough and the two Lunenburg seats — may not be feeling the love as much as they were back in 2009.
Expect NDP efforts to win favour in rural areas to escalate in the months ahead.
Dexter will be trying to pump up the troops for the next election at the party’s annual convention this weekend at the Atlantica Hotel & Marina Oak Island.
Voters tend to be grumpy in the spring. That’s why former premier John Buchanan called — and won — all those fall elections. But thanks to the swirling controversy over boundaries, the fall option may be out of play for the NDP.
Waiting until next spring — especially if the challenge from the poll-climbing opposition parties becomes a trend, rather than a one-poll blip — could bring a worsening forecast for Dexter and the New Democrats.
But what can you do about the weather?
In Thursday’s column, I referred to Pictou West as one of two ridings proposed for elimination in the interim report of the electoral boundaries commission. It should have read Pictou East. Sorry for the error.