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EDITORIAL: Gains, losses and messages

Looking ahead after election day, four years seems interminable to those who don’t like the winner.

On the other hand, a single term is relatively short for any government attempting to map out strategies over the long haul.

And so, there will be a number of Nova Scotians feeling a burden, saddled with the Liberals. Again on the other hand, Premier Stephen McNeil and his Liberals with their slim majority will get the opportunity to put their policies – begun in the last term – to the test and demonstrate whether they will indeed pay off.

Loss in vote numbers and seats by the Liberals has to reflect some disenchantment, but it would be a stretch to call it a dramatic drop. This is a democratic tradition where, let’s face it, voters have a tendency to vote governments out – with a vengeance – as opposed to eagerly supporting anyone’s platform.

That becomes especially apparent in all the recent observations that this marks the first back-to-back majority win in the province since 1988.

Conservative leader Jamie Baillie celebrated the fact that his party had the greatest seat gain compared to 2013. That’s some consolation in coming in second. But the party will have to examine why the Conservatives couldn’t transform substantial frustration with the McNeil government into a victory for themselves. No doubt the issue of leadership will be raised in coming months or years.

Of the drop in support for the Liberals – 6.2 per cent of the popular vote – analysts and opposition are saying voters sent a message to government. Certainly the Liberals lost support from many teachers over an imposed settlement, likely along with others from the public sector and organized labour. They lost it from those who see our health care system still struggling to meet challenges.

But to be honest, they also lacked support from those who voted Conservative – or NDP – simply because they’ve always voted that way.

In that regard, it’s worth making the observation that with its accomplishment in balancing the budget the Liberal party is well inside the territory of small-c conservatives. And on the same note, McNeil did benefit from the support of those who, during the protracted labour dispute, agreed with his assessment that the province needs to live within its means.

That might also help explain why NDP leader Gary Burrill’s pitch to run deficits to allow greater social spending didn’t result in significant traction for that party.

It is good to send government a message in any case. And a government would do well to heed that message. McNeil and his party will have a good idea of what that is, and the work they need to do – not just to regain voter satisfaction, but to address the nagging issues.

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