CBC projects Progressive Conservatives will form next Nova Scotia government

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The Progressive Conservatives have jumped out to an early lead after the polls closed in Nova Scotia’s provincial election, knocking off several cabinet ministers and the speaker of the House.

Live Election Results: Nova Scotia Votes 2021

Get full coverage from the CBC Nova Scotia team as results roll in live for the 2021 provincial election. 0:00

The Progressive Conservatives will form Nova Scotia’s next government, with Tim Houston as premier.

Votes continue to be counted and it’s too soon to say whether it will be a majority or minority victory, but Liberal Leader Iain Rankin conceded the result.

The Tories will return to power for the first time since 2009 and deny the Liberals a third consecutive win. The party jumped out to early leads in many seats after polls closed, including seats they previously held but also many they targeted.

Tim Houston, leader of Nova Scotia’s Progressive Conservatives, will be the province’s next premier. Liberal Leader Iain Rankin conceded defeat Tuesday evening. (Jeorge Sadi/CBC)

That includes Guysborough-Tracadie, where former radio reporter Greg Morrow is projected to win, knocking off Liberal cabinet minister Lloyd Hines, and Eastern Shore, where Kent Smith is projected to oust Kevin Murphy, the speaker of the House. Nursing home administrator Michelle Thompson is projected to win in Antigonish, besting Liberal justice minister Randy Delorey.

Tories’ focus on health care pays off

For Tory Leader Tim Houston, the result is vindication of the party’s almost single-minded focus on health care for the last 31 days. He repeatedly targeted the Liberal record in the last eight years, pointing to a growing wait list for family doctors, ambulance delays and a lack of long-term care beds.

Colton Leblanc was the first candidate CBC News projected to win. The PC candidate was running for re-election in Argyle.

Leblanc said the hard work and dedication of many people made the night possible. The former paramedic said it was clear on the doorsteps that health care was the top issue of the campaign.

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“That’s what we’ve been talking about for the last year,” he told CBC News.

“We’ve continued to repeat our plans and I think that started to resonate with Nova Scotians and particularly here in southwest Nova Scotia.”

Liberal campaign didn’t gain steam

The results spell the end of Liberal Leader Iain Rankin’s short tenure as premier, a role he inherited from Stephen McNeil after a leadership race in February following McNeil’s retirement.

The Liberal campaign never seemed to gain steam. Voters did not give the party credit for its management of the COVID-19 pandemic, something many party officials expected, and an expected sleepy campaign turned out to be anything but for the Liberals, who become the first sitting government in Canada not to be re-elected during the pandemic.

Brendan Maguire, who CBC News is projecting will be re-elected for the Liberals in Halifax Atlantic, said he could feel the winds of change as travelled through various districts during the campaign.

Maguire backed Rankin in last February’s leadership contest. He said he doesn’t think the public got to know his friend the way he knows him.

“He’s probably one of the most empathetic and smartest people I’ve ever met,” Maguire told CBC News.

“People didn’t see that and that’s unfortunate because this is a person who would have been great for the province. But, obviously, it’s the will of the people and people have spoken.”

He touted the deal Rankin negotiated with the federal government ahead of the election for affordable child care, as well as his efforts to make the environment more of a policy discussion within the government.

Maguire said he’s hopeful Houston and his team will be successful as a government because if they are, it means the province will be successful. 

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Cameron MacKeen, campaign co-chair for the Tories, said the result is proof of what the party believed going into the election.

“Polls had us, two months ago, 28 points behind, saying we had no chance of winning,” he told CBC News.

“We have completely blown that to smithereens. We’ve had one of the best campaigns that I’ve ever been associated with. This shows that a good campaign with a good leader and good message can do anything.”

A woman walks by a voting station in Halifax where people are lined up to vote in Nova Scotia’s provincial election on Tuesday. Some polls opened later than expected this morning and will remain open until 8:30 p.m. AT as a result. (Rose Murphy/CBC)

During the campaign, Houston stressed the progressive elements of the party, distancing them from the Conservative Party of Canada. The provincial party pledged to spend $423 million in the first year alone of a Tory mandate trying to fix health care. Houston also promised to balance the budget in six years, two years longer than what Rankin said he would do.

NDP Leader Gary Burrill, meanwhile, discussed health care during the campaign, but his party primarily focused on the province’s housing crisis, which has seen skyrocketing house prices and rental increases far outstripping the means of many Nova Scotians.

The NDP was promising to address that by bringing in permanent rent control. It was the only party to do so.

Early results showed the party holding most of the seats it had going into the election.

CBC projected Burrill, Claudia Chender and Susan Leblanc will hold their seats. Suzy Hansen is also projected to hold Halifax Needham for the party in her first provincial bid for office.

“I am overjoyed,” said Hansen.

“I’m super excited but, at the same time, honoured to be the representative of Halifax Needham.”

Hansen, who is Black, said she wants to be an inspiration to her children and others in her community.

“If you put a lot of effort into it and you work hard, you can accomplish anything.”

A man heads into a polling station in Halifax on Tuesday. The results are expected to be close and may not be announced tonight. (Rose Murphy/CBC)

The result can be considered nothing short of a major disappointment for Rankin and the Liberals.

In the dying days of the campaign, there was a suggestion Rankin and his team knew the race was close when he revisited comments he made in the spring that the province’s temporary rent control, introduced last fall during the pandemic, could stick around for several years after the provincial state of emergency is lifted and housing stock has increased.

Outwardly, however, he professed confidence, going as far at a rally on Monday to predict the his team would form a majority government.

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