Liberal majority uncertain in Nova Scotia election

Liberal majority drops into toss-up status

It’s Election Day in Nova Scotia and the results are looking far more unpredictable than they did win the campaign was launched some four weeks ago.

A little bit of a warning, perhaps, to Justin Trudeau?

With the last polls published and just hours to go before the votes start to get counted — and, let’s hope, they all get counted tonight — it’s time to update the Nova Scotia seat ratings.

But before I get to that, a little announcement. You can join me and Philippe J. Fournier of 338Canada.com tonight on YouTube for a Nova Scotia election results livestream!

You’ll be able to catch the livestream at this link here. Watch the results come in with us, and ask your questions about what the results mean and anything you’re wondering about the federal election.

The livestream starts at 7 p.m. ET / 8 p.m. AT. Be there and be square.

Alright, now to the seat ratings for Nova Scotia.

The context has changed since I last did this at the beginning of July. The final polls of the campaign have showed a tightening race, with Mainstreet Research giving the Liberals just a two-point lead over the PCs. Forum Research had much the same results with a three-point lead for the Liberals.

The two polls had similar regional results as well, with the Liberals leading in Halifax but both the PCs and NDP pretty competitive — more than they were in the pre-election polling. Cape Breton shows a close contest between the PCs and Liberals, with the NDP not out of the running, while in the rest of Nova Scotia the PCs appear to have the advantage.

That’s a big shift from the last ratings, which were predicated on the Liberals opening up big leads in all parts of the province. Now, the map looks pretty similar to how it did four years ago.

I explained the rationale behind the seat ratings last time, but to re-iterate what the ratings mean:

  • Safe: I don’t have any serious doubt about which party will win.

  • Likely: I’m confident about the winner, but there’s something about the riding or district or broader trends that raises some doubts.

  • Lean: I think one party has a better chance than another to win the seat, but I am not very confident about the call.

  • Toss-up: Either the race will be too close to call or I don’t have a good hunch either way about which party will win due to the number of unknowns.

Liberal majority now a toss-up

There’s been a big shift from the last ratings, when the Liberals were awarded 31 seats and were contesting seven more toss-ups, putting them comfortably over the threshold of 28 seats needed for a majority government.

The PCs were awarded 13 seats and were contesting six more toss-ups, while the NDP was awarded three seats and was contesting four more toss-ups.

Here is where things stand now:

The Liberals are still favoured to win, but a majority is no longer a safe bet. They are now considered the favourites in just 25 seats, meaning they need to win at least three of the nine toss-ups they are contesting in order to get over the majority mark.

And, if things go badly and the party loses some of its “lean” seats, it could wind-up just behind the PCs.

The PCs have solidified their position, with their safe seats jumping from six to 10. They are also now involved in a few more toss-ups. A best-case scenario sees them with 24 seats. A worst-case scenario puts the Liberals at 25 seats, assuming they win all their leans. Nail-biter territory.

The polls have improved a bit for the New Democrats, but not enough to put them in the running for many more seats. However, their safe and likely seats have gone from two to four, and they are now involved in eight seats in all, rather than seven.

In addition, Independent candidate Elizabeth Smith-McCrossin is now estimated to be involved in a three-way contest in Cumberland North with the Liberals and PCs.

Let’s break it down by region. In the graphics below, the “bumped out” seat ratings are those that have changed.

The Halifax and Dartmouth region is primarily a contest between the Liberals and the New Democrats, with one exception. It’s where the NDP’s safe and likely seats are located, meaning the region represents half of the seats in which the NDP is a contender.

A few of these are relatively easy calls. The Liberals won Clayton Park West, Cole Harbour-Dartmouth, Fairview-Clayton Park, Halifax Atlantic and Halifax Citadel-Sable Island by between 10 and 33 points, and the polls give no indication that they should be in much danger in seats they won by wide margins in 2017.

The NDP won Halifax Needham by 23 points in 2017. They don’t have an incumbent as Lisa Roberts is not running again, but the riding has voted for the New Democrats since 1998 and the party only came close to losing it once over that span, in 2013.

Halifax Chebucto is NDP leader Gary Burrill’s riding and he ousted a Liberal MLA from the seat in 2017. Now that the NDP has recovered and the Liberals have dropped, he should be fine.

Dartmouth North and Dartmouth South look better for the NDP than they did before. The New Democrats won Dartmouth North by just under five points and Dartmouth South by just under seven, but the Liberals took both ridings in 2013. The NDP appears to have shored-up its support in Halifax, though, so losing these might not be very likely anymore.

The PCs won Dartmouth East by just over two percentage points. With the PCs doing better in Halifax than earlier in the campaign, it looks like it could still be close again.

Halifax Armdale is without a Liberal incumbent, as Lena Diab is not running again after being elected in 2013 and 2017. This was previously a pretty solid NDP riding once represented by former provincial and federal NDP leader Alexa McDonough and the party has retained some strength over the last two elections.

The seats around Halifax now look a little more competitive, with three of them moving into toss-up territory.

But the same rule of big Liberal wins in 2017 unlikely to be overturned in 2021 applies to Bedford Basin, Bedford South, Eastern Shore, Hammonds Plains-Lucasville, Preston and Timberlea-Prospect (Liberal leader Iain Rankin’s riding).

Cole Harbour is an interesting one. The new boundaries made the seat more of a three-way race than it was back in 2017. Incumbent Liberal cabinet minister Tony Ince is running in this seat and with the swing in the polls it is anyone’s game.

On the new boundaries, Eastern Passage was close, with the PCs winning by just a point. This will be a 2017 re-match between PC incumbent Barbara Adams and former Liberal MLA Joyce Treen.

The two Sackville ridings are worth watching, but look better for the PCs now. In Sackville-Cobequid, the PCs were able to steal away an NDP seat in a 2019 byelection by just three points. It had previously been an NDP seat from 1984.

Sackville-Uniacke was won by the PCs by about 10 points in 2017, so one would expect they could hold this.

In Waverley-Fall River-Beaver Bank, the Liberals won’t have Bill Horne on the ballot. He won by just 65 votes last time and the new boundaries make this seat a little more PC-friendly. The lack of an incumbent hurts the Liberals. This seat has also been a bellwether in most recent elections, so keep an eye on it.

Moving south and west, many of these seats look safe for the Liberals.

In the Annapolis Valley, the question marks are Hants West and Kings West.

Hants West was won by the Liberals by a big margin in 2017. But the Liberals don’t have Chuck Porter on the ballot this time. He was elected as a PC in 2006 but eventually crossed the floor to the Liberals, winning them the seat in 2017. That made him the first Liberal elected in Hants West since 1974, so his departure will have a big impact. Both Hants West and Hants East, which looks like a likely Liberal win, have only voted for the same party once since 1984, and that was thanks to Porter.

In Kings West, the Liberals lack an incumbent after the departure of Leo Glavine. This is a traditional swing riding, so without an incumbent and with softer polls the Liberals have to watch this one.

On the south shore, the only serious doubt is in Chester-St. Margaret’s. Hugh MacKay won this one for the Liberals by less than a percentage point over the NDP. He left the Liberal caucus in 2020 after being charged with impaired driving and isn’t running again. Historically, Chester-St. Margaret’s has been a decent NDP riding and they could take advantage of the lack of an incumbent.

In southwest Nova Scotia, the Liberals have three safe seats in Clare, Digby-Annapolis and Yarmouth, while the PCs look safe in Argyle and Queens, and probably Shelburne, too.

Moving to central Nova Scotia, this is an area with Progressive Conservative strength.

In Central Nova, the three Pictou ridings are all safe for the PCs. Pictou Centre was the closest of the three in 2017, and the PCs still won it by 25.5 points. Pictou East, won by the biggest margin, is PC leader Tim Houston’s.

Antigonish and Guysborough-Tracadie were not won by big margins by the Liberals in 2017. Antigonish is probably still safe for the Liberals but Guysborough-Tracadie was decided by less than a point last time and could be just as close this time.

The Fundy Northeast region is also looking good for the PCs. The Liberals are without an incumbent in Hants East and the PCs only won Truro-Bible Hill-Millbrook-Salmon River in a 2020 byelection, taking it from the NDP. Both parties can probably repeat their wins, but it isn’t a sure bet.

The Liberals won Colchester North by 5.5 points in 2017, but that was with Karen Casey as their candidate. She was elected as a PC in 2006 and 2009 before crossing the floor and winning re-election twice more as a Liberal. Without Casey this time, can the Liberals hold on? The surrounding ridings swung pretty hard to the PCs in 2017 and Truro went blue in last year’s byelection. It’s a toss.

Cumberland North is similarly murky. Elizabeth Smith-McCrossin was booted from the PC caucus over her role with border protests and is running as an Independent. Apparently, she has plenty of signs up across the riding.

This riding went NDP in 2009, Liberal in 2013 and PC in 2017, so it swings pretty wildly. Former PC MLA Ernie Fage was able to take 27% of the vote when he ran as an Independent in 2009, so if Smith-McCrossin does the same it really is hard to predict who could win it — including the Liberals, who have former MP Bill Casey on the ballot.

Cumberland South is a likely PC because it wasn’t won by a big margin in 2017, though the PCs did better in the 2018 byelection when the Liberals were doing well enough in the polls.

I’m still a little confused about Cape Breton. The polls suggest the PCs and Liberals are running pretty close, which means the Liberals have made some progress on the island. They also suggest the NDP is competitive. So, things could move around quite a bit from 2017.

The riding boundaries also shifted a good deal in Cape Breton, further muddying the waters.

Cape Breton Centre-Whitney Pier was won by the NDP by about nine points in 2017 and they retained it in a 2020 byelection by 12 points. The NDP has held this riding, or at least part of it, since 1998.

Glace Bay-Dominion is one where I have completely thrown up my hands and I’m calling it a three-way race. The Liberals won this by just 5.5 points last time, but Geoff MacLellan is not running for re-election. He has won the seat three times and it has voted Liberal since 2000. So, there is some residual Liberal strength despite the loss of an incumbent, and the polls look better for the party than in 2017.

But the NDP is running John Morgan, who was mayor of the Cape Breton Regional Municipality from 2000 to 2012. The NDP also has a decent historical base of support here for Morgan to build upon.

And then the PCs, who are running the same candidate who got 39% of the vote in 2017, also can’t be discounted. It’s possible the confluence of these factors make the race close for all three parties. But it’s also possible any one of these three win comfortably. It’s just too tough to call.

Alana Paon won what is now Richmond in 2017, but the new boundaries actually give this riding to the Liberals. Paon was removed from the PC caucus in 2019 and is running as an Independent, but isn’t expected to be a big factor. The Liberals held this seat from 1988 to 2017 and, with better polls, better boundaries and a potential vote split, are the narrow favourites.


I don’t think Iain Rankin and the Liberals were expecting things to get this difficult over the course of their four-week campaign. They remain the favourites because they have good support in Halifax, have improved their standing in Cape Breton and are still strong in parts of rural Nova Scotia. But this is a province that is not shy about electing minority governments — and the trends have not been heading in the Liberals’ favour.

This will be one to watch.

So, tune in to the livestream starting at 7 PM ET / 8 PM AT tonight. Hope to see you there!

Share

Leave a comment