The provincial election in Nova Scotia is tomorrow. Based on the polls, the Liberals are in a strong position to win. However, the Liberals’ strong position in the polls doesn’t mean they are well liked, or that their platform or politics resonate with the working class of Nova Scotia. The support for the Liberals represented in the polls has more to do with the hatred for the Conservatives and the lack of faith in the NDP after the disaster of the Daryl Dexter government than the popularity of the Liberals and their policies.
The issues facing Nova Scotians are acute, and growing worse. Nova Scotia is barreling towards an economic crisis, and another term of Liberal leadership will merely pave the way for a deeper crisis in the future. We need socialist leadership.
How we got here
Nova Scotia experienced a period of relative economic growth up until the early 20th century. Throughout the 20th century, the province experienced an era of economic decline, punctuated by occasional booms in natural resource industries like coal, pulp and paper, and fisheries. Faced with hard times due to capitalist overexploitation of raw resources and competition from other industrialists, each time one of these industries collapsed the government was forced to bail out the bosses. The result has been decades of Liberal and Conservative governments, trading power back and forth, using public money to foot the bill for the inherent instability of the capitalist system.
This changed in 2009, when the NDP held provincial government for the first time in the history of Nova Scotia. As the province was wracked by the 2008 financial crisis, it became clear where the money was going—to the bosses. The working class of NS, fed up with the Liberals and the Conservatives, turned to the NDP, not because of Daryl Dexter’s moderate leadership, but because of the NDP’s role as the historic party of the working class in Canada. Dexter won the election by a landslide. Leaning on this support, Dexter betrayed the workers of Nova Scotia, removing the post-secondary tuition freeze, decreasing healthcare spending, and decreasing corporate taxes while increasing taxes for working people, among other attacks. The NDP saw a huge drop in support in the next election, and the voters returned to the Liberals and Conservatives. Unsurprisingly, both parties have continued to bail out the bosses, and offer only crumbs, at best, to the workers.
Since the 2009 election, the economic situation in Nova Scotia has continued to deteriorate. Public debt continues to climb. For example, the combined federal-provincial debt-to-GDP ratio at the beginning of 2021 was 106 per cent, the highest of any province in Canada. Having to pay the servicing costs for this enormous debt means there is less money for healthcare, education, and other public services. Ian Rankin’s Liberals and Tim Houston’s Conservatives know this, and neither are providing a way forward for the workers of Nova Scotia. Instead, they must reconcile their inability to continue to pay the bosses’ bills with their class interest in keeping the capitalist system afloat. Sooner or later, the Liberals and the Conservative will have to resort to austerity, directly attacking the working class. We’ve even seen the first glimpse of this in nearby Newfoundland and Labrador, whose economic history has followed a similar trajectory to that of Nova Scotia.
Socialism or austerity
If the Liberals are providing no way forward, why do the polls suggest that they will take this election? Despite being hugely unpopular, the Liberals experienced an enormous pandemic boost, going from a 29 per cent approval rate in September of 2019 under the leadership of Stephen McNeil, who resigned, to 75 per cent in May of 2021 under the leadership of Ian Rankin. This was due primarily to the circumstances around the pandemic in the Maritimes. Nova Scotia mostly avoided the kinds of travel-related COVID-19 outbreaks that hit places like Toronto and Montreal. The Liberals had an example of what a significant outbreak would look like from seeing disasters in Montreal and Toronto, so the province shut down before infection rates became severe. Over the course of the pandemic the province has experienced relatively few cases, avoiding the worst of the pandemic.
The polls suggest that the pandemic boost will likely bring victory to the Liberals. But the pressing issues of the election—a ballooning public debt, a housing crisis, a completely inadequate healthcare system, and the question of what a pandemic recovery will look like—will not be solved by another four years of Liberal leadership.
The NDP, under the leadership of Gary Burrill, have shifted left since 2009. Workers and students are seeing this and are increasingly being pulled toward the NDP, with the projected percentage of the popular vote going to the NDP rising as election time approaches. Burrill is running on a platform that would genuinely benefit the working class, including an increased minimum wage and rent control, which is a good start
However, the working class remembers the failures of the Dexter NDP. When Burrill’s NDP puts forward massive public investment, it rings like an empty promise because people have heard that all before. The NDP in Nova Scotia needs to reconnect with its socialist heritage and a fundamental break with capitalism to truly capture the workers and the youth, and provide any way forward from the coming crisis. The NDP needs to make it clear that it is the bosses who must pay and point towards a bold, revolutionary, socialist program as the only means out of the crisis.