Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Three Nova Scotia provincial by-elections today

Today, there are three provincial by-elections being held in Nova Scotia following the death of one Member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA) and the resignation of two others. These by-elections are the first electoral test of the new Liberal government in the province which was just swept to power in the 2013 provincial elections. The Liberals, under Premier Stephen McNeil, have enjoyed an elongated honeymoon since those elections, and have been polling at or above 50% ever since. However, the most recent budget in the province was seen as unpopular, which has resulted in the Liberals polling at “just” 50% in the most recent Corporate Research Associates poll released last month.

Two of the three by-elections are being held on Cape Breton Island, in the ridings of Cape Breton Centre and neighbouring Sydney-Whitney Pier. Both ridings elected New Democrats in 2013, two of just seven seats the party won in the election that saw the New Democratic Party swept from government into third place in the legislature. While this part of Cape Breton has a long history of sending New Democrats to the legislature, the party was likely buoyed the popularity of the two incumbents in those ridings; Frank Corbett in Cape Breton Centre and Gordie Gosse in Sydney-Whitney Pier. Both men were narrowly re-elected in the 2013 election after winning in landslide elections in the previous election in 2009. The third by-election is being held in Dartmouth South, and was triggered by the death of its MLA, Allan Rowe who was just elected for the first time in 2013.

Cape Breton Centre


Cape Breton Centre is named for its central location within the Cape Breton Regional Municipality (CBRM), formerly Cape Breton County. It sits between the two main hubs of the CBRM: Sydney on the southwest and Glace Bay on the east. The riding is bounded on the north by the Atlantic Ocean and on the west by Sydney Harbour. The southern boundary follows an irregular line south of the communities along Highway 4. About two-fifths of the riding lives in the largest community in the riding, New Waterford, which is situated on the Atlantic Coast. New Waterford was formerly an incorporated town before the amalgamation of Cape Breton County into the CBRM in 1995. The riding is home to one more formerly incorporated town, Dominion, which is located on the eastern border of the riding on Indian Bay.


Cape Breton Centre is a riding that has been in a steady economic decline since the 1960s. The riding is marked by its coal mining history, which can be recalled by some of the community names in the riding like “Reserve Mines”, “Gardiner Mines” and “Victoria Mines”. However, the last mine closed in the riding about 15 years ago. Much of the younger people in the riding have left for better economic prospects, leaving behind an older population (the median age of New Waterford is 48).

Owing to the coal mining industry in this riding, the NDP, and its predecessor the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (CCF), has a long history of winning here. It was occasionally the only riding in the entire province to vote NDP. It first voted CCF in 1939, and was represented by them and the NDP until 1963. The riding again voted NDP for a time in the 1970s and has been represented by Frank Corbett's since 1998. The Tories last held the riding in the 1980s, while the Liberals last held the riding from 1988 to 1998. Since 1990, most of the races in this district were between the Liberals and the NDP, except for when the Tories placed second in 2006, thanks to their leader at the time being from Cape Breton. When the NDP formed government in 2009, Corbett won the seat in a landslide, winning 80% of the vote. The NDP government proved to be very unpopular in the province, which nearly forced Corbett from office. However, he managed to retain the seat in 2013, defeating his Liberal opponent by just 138 votes.

MLAs (since 1925):

G.S. Harrington & Jos. MacDonald, Lib.-Cons. (1925-1933) [dual member district]
M. Dwyer, Liberal (1933-1939)
D. MacDonald, CCF (1939-1945)
M.J. MacDonald, CCF/NDP (1945-1963)
M.A. Laffin, Prog. Cons. (1963-1974)
J. MacEachern, NDP (1974-1981)
M.A. Lafflin, Prog. Cons. (1981-1988) 2nd time
J.W. Connors, Liberal (1988-1989)
R.F. MacNeil, Liberal (1989-1998)
F. Corbett, NDP (1998-2015)

Political geography

The 2013 election saw a close race between the Liberals and NDP. In most communities, neither party won a majority of the vote. Only in Grand Lake Road, in the far south of the riding did either of the parties do so, with the Liberals winning 52.5% of the vote there. The NDP's best community was South Bar, on the west coast of the riding, where they won 49.5% of the vote. The riding's largest community, New Waterford was near evenly split, with its west side backing the Liberal candidate, and the east side backing the NDP. In 2013, the Liberals tended to do better in the south of the riding, which had been redistributed into the riding prior to the election from Cape Breton Nova. People there may have been less familiar with the NDP incumbent, and were therefore may have been more likely to back the Liberals. However, South Bar was also redistributed into the riding, and was the NDP's best community in the riding. In 2009, the NDP swept every single poll in the riding, including the polls that were in Cape Breton Nova at the time.

2013 election results by community

Federally, Cape Breton Centre is split between the ridings of Sydney—Victoria (New Waterford area) and Cape Breton—Canso (Dominion area). While both ridings have been held by the Liberals since 2000, the NDP has enjoyed some success in the Cape Breton Centre area. The New Democrats routinely win a number of polls in New Waterford, and sometimes win outside the community as well. However, the Liberals usually win most of the polls in the region. In 2011, the Conservatives were competitive in Sydney—Victoria, and for the first time since their merger, won a handful of polls in Cape Breton Centre, specifically in the New Waterford area.


The NDP has been without an official leader since former Premier Darrell Dexter resigned following the 2013 election loss. Since then, the party has been led Maureen MacDonald. The currently leaderless NDP is polling at about the same percentage as what they won in 2013, while the Liberals are polling slightly higher, but are trending downwards since the unpopular budget came out. Federally, the Liberals are polling quite well in Nova Scotia, but are now trending downward, while the NDP is trending up. Polling alone paints a close race in this seat, which means it will come down to who the candidates are. While Corbett was able to get re-elected in 2013 thanks to his personal popularity, the NDP does have historical strength in this seat, which may give them somewhat of an advantage.

Running for the NDP is administrative support employee Tammy Martin, while the Liberals are running businessman David Wilton who ran against Corbett in 2013. The Tory sacrificial lamb is Edna Lee, who also ran in 2013, winning just 11% of the vote. While the NDP may still win the seat due to their history in the area, the Liberals probably have the edge in the district, as the government still remains somewhat popular, while the NDP is still rebuilding from their 2013 defeat. Wilton only needs a 1.05% two-party swing to gain this seat for the Liberals.

Dartmouth South


This riding contains the southern end of Dartmouth, located across Halifax Harbour from the provincial capital of Halifax. The riding contains Dartmouth's downtown in the north of the riding and extends north to Lake Banook, and is bounded on the northeast and south by the Circumferential Highway and on the west by Halifax Harbour. The riding extends beyond the Circumferential Highway to Morris Lake in the east to, adding in the neighbourhoods around Russell Lake. Not only does the riding contain Dartmouth's downtown, but it includes Dartmouth's southern suburbs like Southdale and Grahams Corner. Like most of Dartmouth, the riding is home to a number of lakes. In addition to the aforementioned lakes, it also includes Penhorn Lake, Oat Hill Lake and Maynard Lake. The entirety of the riding is located in the former city of Dartmouth, which amalgamated with the rest of Halifax County to form the Halifax Regional Municipality in 1996.


Dartmouth South has been won by all three parties in recent elections. The Liberals won it back for the first time in 19 years in 1993, but they lost the seat in the 1998 election to the NDP, when the NDP tied the Liberals in the province-wide seat count. However, the NDP only held it for a year, when the Tories picked it up in the 1999 provincial election. The Tories only held it for one term until the New Democrats took it back in 2003 (under the new riding name of “Dartmouth South-Portland Valley”), and held it until the Liberals swept back to power in 2013. The Tories have not been competitive here since they lost the seat in 2006. In 2009, the NDP's Marilyn More won the seat easily over her Liberal opponent. She did not run again in 2013, and the Liberals' Allan Rowe defeated the NDP candidate by 1100 votes. This may not have been a horrible showing for the NDP in a riding with no incumbent in an election where they were decimated.

The riding was known as Dartmouth South-Portland Valley for the 2003, 2006 and 2009 elections. Owing to population growth in the riding thanks to new condo developments, the riding shrunk prior to the 2013 election (losing the Portland Hills area), and was re-named Dartmouth South.

MLAs (since 1933)

Halifax East
G.W. Stevens, Liberal (1933-1956)

Halifax County Dartmouth
G.W. Stevens, Liberal (1956-1960) continued
G.L.S. Hart, Liberal (1960-1963)
I.W. Akerley, Prog. Cons. (1963-1967)

Dartmouth South
I.W. Akerley, Prog. Cons. (1967-1970) continued
D.S. MacNutt, Liberal (1970-1974)
R.J. Thornhill, Prog. Cons. (1974-1993)
J.P. Savage, Liberal (1993-1998)
D. Chard, NDP (1998-1999)
T.A. Olive, Prog. Cons. (1999-2003)

Dartmouth South-Portland Valley
Ms. Marilyn More, NDP (2003-2013)

Dartmouth South
A. Rowe, Liberal (2013-2015)

Political geography

In the 2013 election, the Liberals won most of the riding, except for parts of Dartmouth's Downtown. However, they were only able to win a majority of the vote in one neighbourhood, the upper middle class area of Manor Park, which is the residential area between Penhorn Lake and Oat Hill Lake. The NDP only won one neighbourhood in the riding, that of Austenville, an area adjacent to the Downtown. There, they also won over 50% of the vote. The Tories did not win any polls, but they did finish ahead of the NDP in two neighbourhoods: Portland Estates and Russell Lake West. These two neighbourhoods surround Russell Lake, in the eastern part of the district. In 2009, the NDP swept all but two of the Dartmouth South polls, with the Liberals winning the two polls in Manor Park.

2013 election results by neighbourhood

Federally, Dartmouth South is located in the riding of Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, which was won by the NDP's Robert Chisholm for the first time in 2011. Chisholm won most of the polls in Dartmouth South, but the Liberals did win in Grahams Corner, Manor Park and the area around Russell Lake. The Conservatives also won a poll near Russell Lake. Before Chisholm was elected, the Liberals held Dartmouth—Cole Harbour from 2004 to 2011. During this period they would typically win the neighbourhoods of Grahams Corner, Manor Park and the Russell Park area, while the NDP would win Southdale, Woodside North and parts of the Downtown.


Running for the Liberals in Dartmouth South is Tim Rissesco, the executive director of the Downtown Dartmouth Business Commission. The NDP is running Marian Mancini, a retired legal aid lawyer and wife of former Sydney—Victoria MP Peter Mancini. The Tories are running their 2013 candidate again, businessman Gord Gamble. There is also an independent running, Charlene Gagnon an operations director.

With their 13-point win in 2013, the Liberals have to have the edge in winning the by-election in Dartmouth South. The NDP may put up a fight here, as it is a seat they have won before, but will need a strong ground game to make it close. Additionally, a collapsed PC vote will likely act to benefit the Liberals as the Tories did manage to win 18% of the vote here in 2013, and are unlikely to replicate that number. The NDP would need about a 7% two-party swing from the Liberals to take this seat, which is probably out of range given current polling numbers.

Sydney-Whitney Pier


Back on Cape Breton Island is the riding of Sidney-Whitney Pier, located adjacent to Cape Breton Centre. Sydney-Whitney Pier covers most of the community of Sydney, the largest population centre in the Cape Breton Regional Municipality. Sydney was an incorporated city until Cape Breton's amalgamation in 1995. Sydney-Whitney Pier also includes the small Membertou Mi'kmaq First Nation in the southeast corner of the riding. The riding name includes the community of Whitney Pier, which is still technically part of Sydney, but is separated from the rest of the community by Muggah Creek, a former site of a steel mill and the former site of Sydney's infamous Tar Ponds. In addition to Whitney Pier, the riding also includes the Sydney neighbourhoods of Ashby, Hardwood Hill, and the city's downtown.


Sydney has historically been divided between the ridings of Cape Breton Nova and Cape Breton South. The 2012 redistribution saw the redrawing of Cape Breton's ridings, and the doing away (except for Cape Breton Centre) with the vaguely named directionally named ridings in the region. Before the creation of Sydney-Whitney Pier, Sydney's downtown, south end and Hardwood Hill neighbourhood was in the riding of Cape Breton South, while Ashby and Whitney Pier were in oddly-named Cape Breton Nova riding. With the redistribution, a majority of both ridings would come to form the new Sydney-Whitney Pier riding, though more of Cape Breton Nova became Sydney-Whitney Pier.

From 1970 to 2003, Cape Breton Nova was the personal fiefdom of Paul MacEwan. He was first elected as a New Democrat in 1970 before forming the Cape Breton Labour Party and then eventually becoming a Liberal. In between parties, he served and was elected as an independent. No matter what his banner was, he continued to get re-elected in each election he ran in. He finally retired in 2003 when Gordie Gosse was first elected for the NDP, defeating the second place Liberal candidate by just 74 votes. Gosse was re-elected easily in 2006 and 2009. In 2013, he ran in Sydney-Whitney Pier in a close-ish race in which he defeated the Liberal candidate by over 500 votes. Meanwhile, Cape Breton South has been a reliable Liberal riding. The grits held the seat continuously between 1974 and 2013. Its last MLA, Manning MacDonald chose not to run in 2013. If he had, he could have made a race against Gosse much closer in the new riding.

Today, Sydney is trying to rebound from its industrial past, when it was a major steel and coal mining centre. The city has seen a population decline since the 1960s, and is suffering from the closing of its last steel mills and coal mines over a decade ago. Today, with the tar sands cleared up, the city is focusing more on tourism. Most people in the community work in the service and trade sectors.

MLAs (since 1933)

Cape Breton South
Prior to 1956, Cape Breton South covered all of Sydney. Cape Breton Nova would be created out of it in 1956.

G.S. Harrington, Cons. (1933-1937)
G.M. Morrison, Liberal (1937-1941)
D. MacDonald, CCF (1941-1945)
J.S. MacIvor, Liberal (1945-1956)
D.C. MacNeil, Prog. Cons. (1956-1970)
J.F. Burke, Prog. Cons. (1970-1974)
V.J. MacLean, Liberal (1974-1993)
Manning MacDonald, Liberal (1993-2013)

Cape Breton Nova
Percy Gaum, Prog. Cons. (1956-1970)
Paul MacEwan, NDP (1970-1980); Ind. (1980-1982); C.B. Labour (1982-1984); Ind. (1984-1990); Liberal (1990-2003)
G.L. Gosse, Jr., NDP (2003-2013)

Sydney-Whitney Pier
G.L. Gosse, Jr., NDP (2013-2015) continued

Political geography

Just from looking at the 2013 polling division map, you can tell where the former riding boundary between Cape Breton South and Cape Breton Nova was. The NDP's Gordie Gosse raked in large margins in the northern half of the riding, which was in his former district of Cape Breton Nova. He did especially well in his home community of Whitney Pier, where the won 75% of the vote, the strongest vote share for the NDP in any community. Meanwhile, the Liberals won the southern part of the riding which was in the Liberal-held riding of Cape Breton South. The strongest community for the Liberals was the Membertou First Nation, where they won 71% of the vote. In 2009, all of the Cape Breton Nova polls went NDP, while the Cape Breton South polls were more split between the Liberals and NDP. The NDP candidate actually won the Membertou First Nation and a cluster of polls in central Sydney, while the Liberals won much of the rest of the city.

2013 election results by neighbourhood

Federally, Sydney-Whitney Pier is in the riding of Sydney—Victoria, which has been has been held by Liberal MP Mark Eyking since 2000. The north-south divide is not just evident in provincial politics, and not just because of the former riding boundaries; it exists federally as well. Whitney Pier routinely backs NDP candidates, while the rest of Sydney usually backs Eyking. In 2011, the Conservatives won their first polls in Sydney, winning two in the south end, thanks to the strong candidacy of former MLA Cecil Clarke.


Gosse's popularity is quite evident if you look at the relatively low swing against him in 2013. The two-party swing between the 2009 transposed results and the 2013 election was just 7% to the Liberals, while province wide it was more than double this (18%). Without Gosse on the ballot, it will be much harder for the NDP to retain this seat.

The NDP candidate in Sydney-Whitney Pier is Madonna Doucette, the LGBT resource co-ordinator for the AIDS Coalition of Cape Breton. Former regional councillor Derek Mombourquette is once again the Liberal candidate, having previously run in 2013. Cape Breton Business College owner Brian MacArthur is the Tory candidate.

Mombourquette will only need a three point two-party swing from the NDP to win this district, which will not be insurmountable given recent polling, and without Gosse on the ballot. He has already run in this district, and already has experience as a politician. He may be helped by the fact that the NDP is running an activist in a riding that has more blue collar-roots. Based on math alone though, this seat is the most likely to be retained by the NDP, given the 5 point margin that Gosse won by in 2013.

For the NDP, it will be a big blow to lose any of their two Cape Breton seats. It will mean an even more decimated caucus, as they would be down to just five seats from the seven they won in 2013. Given the lower expectations, just holding both of them would be a win for the Dippers. For the Liberals, a win would be picking up either Cape Breton seat. In contrast, if they were to somehow lose Dartmouth South, it would be devastating for the Grits. And for the Tories, they really should have low expectations tonight. Their vote shares will likely go down in all three seats, so a win might be increasing their vote share in any seat.

As by-elections go, tonight should be an exciting night, with potentially three close races to watch. It will certainly be interesting to see what the pulse of Nova Scotia is at right now, so close to a federal election where there may be many Liberal vs. NDP races in the province. Also, turnout will be interesting to see, given how we are essentially in the middle of the summer. We'll see how it all shakes out when polls close at 8pm Atlantic (7pm Eastern).