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EDITORIAL: Everywhere a sign

It’s always tempting to try to glean a pattern or message from a byelection. Does the result help reaffirm a government’s direction, or does it send them a warning that change is in the wind?

Such a clear answer wouldn’t exactly shout to be heard from the Progressive Conservative win of the byelection in Cumberland South, vacated by ex-party leader Jaimie Baillie. But as with any voting result, it offers some tantalizing food for thought.

The PC’s Tory Rushton managed to hang on to the riding for the party – quite handily as it turns out. According to unofficial results, the Oxford resident captured 3,417 of the votes, well ahead of Liberal candidate Scott Lockhart, with 1,829. The NDP and Green candidates both received under 300.

That’s a good show of support at the polls, although people do acknowledge the riding as longtime Conservative. So, in a case like this, with about three years until the next election, do voters want to switch and have an MLA sitting on the government side of the house? Or might they be disenchanted with the Stephen McNeil Liberals and possibly even sense a coming turn of the tide?

Avowed Conservatives will doubtless be thrilled, and even more so in view of the Conservative win, in a byelection earlier this week, of a federal riding in Quebec that had been held by the Liberals. The recent provincial win in Ontario by Doug Ford’s Conservatives will also be encouraging for many of that stripe.

In the case of Cumberland South, described as a PC stronghold, the outcome is not necessarily a compelling indicator. But other interesting factors enter the equation.

Rushton told CBC News, for example, that he knocked on plenty of doors in his campaign, and also it was his understanding that a large number of youth got out to vote – many of them casting ballots for the first time.

That in itself is encouraging for people concerned about a diminishing of participation in elections, particularly among younger people.

But what got a larger proportion of that age group to the polls would also make for interesting discussion. Some of them would have been affected by the standoff between the provincial government and the teachers a year and a half ago – leading to the first labour disruption ever in Nova Scotia schools.

Not everyone will agree who was to blame, but that it happened on the Liberals’ watch will colour some people’s impressions.

Then there’s a health care system sputtering in the goal of adding sufficient staff, providing everyone with a family doctor and reducing wait times for procedures – all this run by a health authority put in place by the Liberals that doesn’t make its workings or decisions available to the press or the public.

Younger people, no doubt, are coming to understand how these issues directly affect them and their families.

If there is some sort of message in this byelection it should be heeded keenly by the Liberals themselves. There are items a government can’t let drag, because people do eventually become hyper aware of shortcomings.

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