“An election” — as here-and-gone Conservative Prime Minister Kim Campbell once infamously but correctly explained — “is no time to discuss serious issues.” The real reason we are going to the polls in the middle of August is because the Liberals hope, and believe, no one will be paying attention.
It’s 7:37 am on Saturday morning and I hit refresh on my computer news feed. Again. A few minutes earlier, on CBC Radio’s Weekend Morning, newsreader Sarah Haliburton — squeezed between host Bill Roach’s usual eclectic musical selections (Dennis Lee’s iconic “Alligator Pie” followed by “Two Sleepy People,” the Fats Waller version) — began her latest update with news that no longer seemed much like news.
“In Nova Scotia, it could be an August election…”
Three days earlier, veteran AllNovaScotia legislature reporter Brian Flinn, after checking the lie of the political land (in all its many and various meanings), reported back that “all political parties are now mobilizing their troops for an Aug. 17 election. Signs are being printed and campaign vehicles are being fitted with giant images of the party leaders… All signs indicate the premier will plunge Nova Scotia into an election campaign by Sunday.”
By Friday, the Chronicle Herald’s Francis Campbell had shaved one day off Flinn’s weekend writ-drop prognostication. “Premier Iain Rankin could make it as early as Saturday, setting the table for an Aug. 17 election day…”
That same day, CBC provincial reporter Jean Laroche posted on Facebook a photo of his campaign “go-bag,” mic stand and MEDIA badge, packed and ready “for the next 31 days. Stay tuned.”
Of course, news isn’t really news until it is.
Which is why I hit refresh again.
Back in June, I remember listening to an interview with another smart CBC political reporter, Michael Gorman, who sounded supremely confident we would all be trekking to the polls on the first Tuesday in August.
That was around the time I was predicting — not too loudly, I hope now — that Rankin would hold off election day until early September. My rationale was that a post-Labour Day vote would give us all a little time to savour the COVID-free fruits of our collective sacrifices before the politicians began buzzing about like unwelcome mosquitos at a summer barbecue.
It seems I was wrong about that.
It’s now just after 8 am and CBC reporter Brett Ruskin — is everyone racking up weekend overtime? — has just tweeted/teased out the latest tidbit from the government news wire: “Premier Iain Rankin and his wife, Mary Chisholm, will be visiting Lt. Gov. Arthur J. LeBlanc and Mrs. LeBlanc today, July 17, at 9:45 am at Government House. A media availability will follow.”
Joked Ruskin: “They could be just meeting for a classy brunch.”
My colleague, Tim Bousquet, followed up with an on-point link to the “It’s raining money in Nova Scotia” map he and reporter Jennifer Henderson had created to document what has so far amounted to $321 million in pre-election promises Rankin has made in just over a month of Iain Appleseed rambles from Yarmouth to Sydney, all carefully crafted to seed the ground for this electoral moment.
Tim then followed up with an even more telling tweet: “It’s stupid season.”
And so it will be. From now until Aug. 17.
And likely well beyond.
It is worth noting that much of this faux frenzy/position jockeying happens simply because Nova Scotia is the only jurisdiction in the country without fixed election date legislation.
While the lack of such a law is good for journalists — giving us at least something to write about during the dog-day depths of the no-news summer season — the truth is that there is no good reason for the non-law other than that it gives the party in power an advantage over its rivals.
Not that this party in power needs it. The truth is Nova Scotia’s electoral board was already well and truly tilted in the Liberals’ favour.
Some of that was inevitable. COVID-19 sidelined the political opposition, shining the spotlight instead on the province’s chief medical officer of public health, Dr. Robert Strang, and on whichever premier du jour happened to sit beside him in reflected glory briefing after briefing.
While you might not expect that following expert scientific advice would be enough to win voters hearts and minds, we live in a political world dominated by Donald Trumps, Jason Kennys, Doug Fords and… well, how could Stephen McNeil and Iain Rankin not benefit by common-sense comparison?
But while McNeil and Rankin plumped up their own positives in front of the cameras, they also did everything in their considerable power to marginalize their opponents. The provincial legislature didn’t meet for more than a year. When its members were finally allowed to gather briefly again after Rankin had been elected Liberal leader but not-yet-elected premier, we discovered our new premier was more old school pol than voice of generational change, more corporate apologist than environmentalist. His handlers wasted no time in shutting things down again.
Legislative committees, designed to hold governments accountable, didn’t meet, were emasculated, or the issues they should have been discussing were bulldozed into oblivion by yes-boss MLAs (the same ones who will now seek out votes so they can “represent” us).
It’s not that there were not issues worth discussing. The pandemic deaths at Northwood, the mass shooting, the crisis in long-term care, the lack of doctors, the economy, the Yarmouth ferry…
It’s 10:48 am. Time to click refresh. The election date deal is finally done. As predicted. Anti-climax.
“This province is at a pivotal moment,” Iain Rankin declared in rote-words written for him as he stood in front of reporters, trying to look leader-like with Government House as his backdrop. “We need to continue to make the right decisions for workers, for seniors, for families and for all Nova Scotians. This election will be about how we best position the province for a strong economic recovery, one that focuses on investments in infrastructure and green technology and renewable energy. And I couldn’t be more optimistic about the potential of this province.”
What happens now?
Don’t hold your breath. “An election” — as here-and-gone Conservative Prime Minister Kim Campbell once infamously but correctly explained — “is no time to discuss serious issues.”
The real reason we are going to the polls in the middle of August is because the Liberals hope, and believe, no one will be paying attention.
“People are checked out with the summer,” explained Dalhousie University political scientist Lori Turnbull in an interview with the Chronicle Herald, “We can finally do things. Asking people to switch on to provincial politics for a while is probably… not everybody is going to do that.”
Which means? We may be looking at voter turnout that bottoms even the record low turnout in 2017 when only 53 per cent of us cast a ballot.
If that happens, the Liberals will probably be very happy.
A version of this column originally appeared in the Halifax Examiner.
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