With the release of the latest Angus Reid Poll showing the Nova Scotia NDP government at a 30% approval rating and Premier Dexter’s personal approval rating also at 30%, it begs the question, “Would you call an election now with numbers like that?” When Liberal Opposition Leader Stephen McNeil is polling 18 points higher at 48% approval, it would be tantamount to handing him the keys to the Premier’s Office. Why would any Premier knowingly do that?
Mr. Dexter’s NDP government still has another year left on its mandate and that time could be used wisely to boost those numbers and put voters in a frame of mind more amenable to his party’s chances at the polls.
In running out the clock the NDP may, through legislative initiatives, see a steady rise in their numbers, but the same cannot be held true for Mr. Dexter. It is he who must wear the disappointment of long-time party stalwarts that walked away in disgust during his mandate; indeed, the defections began almost as soon as he took office and have not let up. As well, the public perception and anticipation of systemic change exceeded the reality of the situation, and the subsequent disillusion has created a heightened level of discontent that is out of all proportion.
Now I will not say that Mr. Dexter deserves to wear all the mud slung at him, but wearing it is written into the job description of Party Leader. Everyone in politics knows the Leader is always easy to spot. It’s the person with the target on the front and the back and, as any Leader will tell you, at least it balances the weight.
The case can be made that the NDP inherited an unholy mess from previous government incarnations, both Liberal and Conservative, that placed severe constraints on the new government’s ability to effect any meaningful policy initiatives. That they have, in three years, been able to balance (real or imagined) the budget and maintain service levels must stand as a testament to their managerial capabilities. Visionary? No. Progressive? Not Really. Radical? Ha!
With five senior members of his caucus declaring their intention to retire, Mr. Dexter should now be considering whether this would be a good time to consider his own options. History will show that going out on a high note is always preferable to being sent home in ignominious defeat. If, indeed, his fondest wish is to see a second term for the NDP, his best course of action now might be to clear the path for those behind him. As the federal Liberals can attest, there is nothing like a good leadership race to once again pique the interest of voters, and a fresh new face and a coat of paint can do wonders to boost a party’s electoral hopes. With one year left on the NDP mandate, there is just enough time to put this play in motion for Spring 2014.
Somewhere in the dark recesses of every politician’s mind lurks the Legacy Thought. It’s always preferable to walk off the stage as the first Leader to bring the NDP to power and balance the budget, passing the torch and the target on to a new generation. The alternative, the political equivalent of the music industry’s one hit wonder, is not even worthy of consideration.