Election 2017: What Did Cape Breton Just Say?

What a night.

Full disclosure: I went to bed at midnight, before everything was done and dusted but as the less interesting option — another Liberal majority — was looking very  likely.

I say “less interesting” because the Danish television show Borgen has convinced me the only interesting governments are minority or coalition governments and while I never actually believed a Nova Scotia version would be the stuff of prime-time drama, I had hoped we’d force politicians of different political stripes to work together for our benefit — tempering each other’s worst impulses, bolstering each other’s best ideas. Come to think of it, in our ridiculously partisan world, that actually is the stuff of prime-time drama.

Everyone has their own take on what happened last night and I offer mine not because I really think you need to hear it but because I am the editor of this newspaper and that’s what editors do. (One of the few traditional editor-things still left to them, now that chomping on cigars, screaming at their underlings and keeping a bottle in the bottom left hand desk drawer have become no-nos).

Here are the things that struck me most deeply about the 2017 Nova Scotia provincial election:


Voter turnout

According to Elections Nova Scotia, voter turnout last night was 53.55% — call it 54% — which means 46% of the province’s 748,633 registered electors didn’t bother to cast a ballot. (In passing, 99.5% of all ballots cast were valid but 2,134 were rejected — I would love to know how many were mistakes and how many were protests). 

Here on the Island, voter turnout ranged from a respectable 70% in Cape Breton Richmond to a dismal 50% in Sydney-Whitney Pier and Cape Breton Centre:

Electoral DistrictRegistered ElectorsValid Votes CastVoter Turnout (%)
Cape Breton Centre13,0986,50950.06
Cape Breton Richmond11,0147,65869.90
Glace Bay12,4157,10657.82
Sydney-Whitney Pier18,0018,99350.26
Sydney River-Mira-Louisbourg15,4769,34460.77
Victoria-The Lakes12,3527,34159.72

(Source: Elections Nova Scotia)

I have a tendency to assume that hotly contended districts — like Sydney-Whitney Pier, decided by 142 votes — are also districts where voters turn out in droves but that, obviously, is not always the case.

Low turnout puzzles me — people like to vote. They’ll do it daily for weeks to try and get Ron MacLean to declare their town a “Hockey Town.” They’ll do it daily for weeks to help their favorite local band win the CBC Spotlight contest. They’ll do it daily for weeks to get a local baseball team recognized for its good deeds. They’ll even do it in those Cape Breton Post polls, taking the time to answer (with delightful regularity) “No” to questions like, “Will you be attending [insert name of high profile local event here]?”

Voting in provincial elections has never been easier. It’s actually easier in one way than trying to turn your town into Hockey Town — you only have to do it once (in fact, you are heartily discouraged from doing it more than once).

Maybe we have to make voting for provincial representatives more like voting for Hockey Town. Maybe we need to involve Ron MacLean. Maybe we could trick people into thinking they are voting for Hockey Town. Those are all terrible ideas and they illustrate why people like me — who’ve been interested in elections since long before they could vote — are so useless when it comes to figuring out how to motivate people who are not interested in elections. Maybe we need to have a great council of non-voters come together and find some solutions.

Assuming, of course, they would show up.


Cape Breton Map of Cape Breton Island

I watched CBC Nova Scotia’s election night coverage, which meant I watched three Haligonians sitting at a desk in Halifax interpreting the “message” being sent by Cape Breton and three reporters stationed at the campaign headquarters of the three leaders, all of which were on the mainland.

Healthcare and “traditional union sentiment” were the go-to explanations for Cape Breton’s decision to turf three Liberal incumbents (Michel Samson, Pam Eyking and Dave Wilton) and scare the bejesus out of two others (Geoff MacLellan and Derek Mombourquette).

Interestingly, the question of child poverty wasn’t raised, that I heard, nor was the issue of underfunded equalization, and as for unemployment and out-migration, they’re cited the way you’d cite “spruce trees” or “salt water” — like things that are simply part of our landscape.

Everyone, I think, would have had a much clearer idea of what was up Cape Breton’s nose if the powers that be had  heeded CBU political scientist Tom Urbaniak’s call for a leaders’ debate in Cape Breton, about Cape Breton but the idea didn’t seem to gain traction with any political party. (And for the record, I would not object to a debate in the Annapolis Valley about the Annapolis Valley, or on the South Shore about the South Shore either; I think it would be healthy to shift the discussion, literally, away from Halifax.)

If I had to interpret the message sent by Cape Breton, I’d say it was that our representatives need to represent us.


Proportional representation

This is the part where I imagine what the Nova Scotia legislature would look like if we had proportional representation.

The difference between the Progressive Conservatives’ share of the popular vote (35.78%) and the Liberals’ share of the popular vote (39.51%) was 3.73% and yet, that translated into a difference of 10 seats.

And while the commentators I watched were marveling at how, for much of election night, the NDP was leading in nine seats despite having “only” 21% of the popular vote, 21% of the seats in the legislature would mean 11 seats. (Assuming my math is correct, always a dangerous assumption. Feel free to contact me if I’m wrong.)

Of course, proportional representation leads to more minority governments but as you know, I like minority governments. Not Italian-style minorities, mind you, Borgen-style minorities. Maybe I’m going to have to move to Denmark.


And finally…

Congratulations to Cape Breton’s MLAs:  Tammy Martin (NDP, CB Centre), Alana Paon (PC, CB Richmond), Geoff MacLellan (Liberal, Glace Bay), Allan MacMaster (PC, Inverness), Eddie Orrell (PC, Northside-Westmount), Alfie MacLeod (PC, Sydney River-Mira-Louisbourg), Derek Mombourquette (Liberal, Sydney-Whitney Pier) and Keith Bain (PC, Victoria-The Lakes).

We’ll be watching you…



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