CANADA

Neck and neck in Nova Scotia

PAUL KAIHLA August 15 1988
CANADA

Neck and neck in Nova Scotia

PAUL KAIHLA August 15 1988

Neck and neck in Nova Scotia

CANADA

It was a startling display of campaign theatre. As Nova Scotia Conservative Premier John Buchanan approached the podium at Mount St. Vincent University in Halifax last week, the strains of Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now wafted from the auditorium’s speakers. Then, a squad of young Tories entered from the left of the stage—decked with a dozen Tory-blue Nova Scotia flags—singing “Sha-na-na-na, sha-na-na-na, the Liberals, goodbye.” And in a campaign dance that he repeats at nearly every stop, Canada’s longest-serving premier bounced from side to side and clapped to the beat as the 150 Tories in attendance cheered him toward victory in the Sept. 6 provincial election. Said Buchanan, 57, who used the word “new” 40 times in his 15-minute address: “Leadership

means new ideas. New ideas mean new jobs. New ideas mean new opportunities.”

The emphasis on renewal seemed appropriate after the months of problems plaguing Buchanan’s government. The premier ordered the election announcement to be made unceremoniously over the government’s news wire service on a Saturday evening, July 30, ending nearly a year of speculation about the timing of a vote. Several times over the past nine months, widely predicted election calls did not happen as Buchanan coped with a series of scandals. And when the announcement finally came, many political observers said that the Sept. 6 date seemed to be timed to coincide with a break in a politically embarrassing inquiry into the Nova Scotia justice system and the wrongful imprisonment of Micmac Indian Donald Marshall. Marshall spent 11 years in prison after being convicted in 1971 for a murder that he did not commit.

The Conservatives were in firm control of the legislature at dissolution with 40 of the 52 seats. (The Liberals held six; the NDP, three; independents, two; and there was one vacancy.) Both the Liberals and New Democrats have made ethics in government a campaign issue, but a poll conducted by Halifax-based Om-

nifacts Research Ltd. in early July and released last week reported that 27 per cent of voters were undecided about which party to support. The Liberals and Conservatives were neck and neck with the support of 27 per cent and 26 per cent, respectively, while 19 per cent backed the NDP. In an Omnifacts poll in July, 1987, the Liberals led the Conservatives by six points at 23 per cent, and the NDP was second with 21. Said Omnifacts president Richard Emberley: “If Buchanan is successful in maintaining that trend, he will hang on.”

The NDP suffered the first setback of the campaign after one of its MLAs— Robert Levy, a longtime critic of government patronage—accepted a provincial appointment to the Nova Scotia family court the day before the election call. At the same time, the Liberals were the first of the three parties to reveal specific campaign pledges. Their leader, Vincent MacLean, declared that a Liberal government would introduce a resolution to amend the Meech Lake constitutional accord to ensure that Ottawa keeps control of fisheries and its power to create shared-cost social programs. MacLean said that he did not know whether such a measure would effectively reverse Nova Scotia’s declared support for the agreement—the Tory majority

in the legislature approved the pact on May 25—but some constitutional experts said that it would.

The accord, which, among other things, would bring Quebec into the Constitution by granting the provincial government the right to promote a distinct society, requires the approval of all 10 provincial legislatures and Parliament before June, 1990. Only two provinces have not yet approved the accord—

New Brunswick, where Liberal Premier Frank McKenna also says that the pact takes too much power from the federal government, and Manitoba, where Liberal opposition leader Sharon Carstairs has confronted a minority Conservative government on the issue. Said MacLean: “I have exactly the same views and same worries as Frank McKenna and Sharon Carstairs.”

Meanwhile, Liberal planners say that they are better prepared than they were at the outset of the 1984 election, in which they lost six of their 12 seats—including former leader Alexander (Sandy) Cameron’s. The party had 38 candidates nominated before the current campaign started, compared with six the last time. And MacLean claimed that the Liberals’ private polling showed that the party has a good chance of forming a majority government. Declared the Liberal leader: “People are pretty discontented.”

But a close contest could be decided

by personalities, and many Tories say they are confident that Buchanan’s folksy style will help them to victory, as it did in the three previous elections, beginning in 1978 when the Tories defeated the Liberal government of Gerald Regan. While MacLean, 43, appears awkward and tense at gatherings, Buchanan’s avuncular manner has brought him immense personal popularity. Even MacLean conceded last week that “Buchanan is the single most popular politician in the province.” Added Agar Adamson, a professor of political science at Acadia University: “Buchanan is the best asset the Tories have. I cannot sense a mood

that there is a real desire for change.” For his part, Buchanan concentrated on the province’s improved economic status during his first week on the hustings. Nova Scotia’s current unemployment rate is 9.6 per cent—down from 14.1 per cent in 1984—although unemployment in Cape Breton is a staggering 15.3 per cent. Four days into the campaign, Michelin Tire (Canada) Ltd. announced a $500-million modernization program and expansion of Nova Scotia plants that would create 600 jobs over the next eight years, and Buchanan boasted that his government had created an environment attractive to business. Indeed, his government had

guaranteed a 15-year, $48.3-million interestfree loan for the expansion. It also announced several big public projects this summer, including a $195-million treatment system to clean up Halifax’s sewage-filled harbor.

Both measures were clearly part of a Tory effort to put the scandals behind them and a new face on their government. Two weeks before the election call, four of Buchanan’s ministers resigned from the cabinet for what they said were personal reasons. But according to Acadia’s Adamson, “the resignations were engineered so the Conservatives can say that it is an election of renewal.”

2 For her part, NDP pleader Alexa McDon^ ough, who turns 44 this x week, introduced a fouri point proposal designed to end patronage appointments. Said McDonough: “We refuse to be thrown off course in this election by what has reeked of old party politics. The system stinks and it needs to be cleaned up.” But many political observers said that Levy’s defection from the NDP could undermine opposition charges of government corruption and patronage. Said Adamson: “It is a credibility loss for the NDP.” And now, after months of delays, Nova Scotia’s voters will have their chance to pass their own judgments on the three leaders and their parties.

-PAUL KAIHLA with VALERIE MANSOUR in Halifax

VALERIE MANSOUR