In Nova Scotia, the New Democratic Party government looks to be facing an uphill fight in an election campaign that might already be under way as you read this. Dissatisfaction levels with Premier Darrell Dexter and his team are approaching the red-line figure of 50 per cent. Anything over that and a government is in trouble.
The Corporate Research Associates poll released last week puts the Liberals in first place with the NDP 10 points behind and the Progressive Conservatives well behind both. It’s just a snapshot of voter intentions last month, but it suggests challenges ahead for the NDP.
In Prince Edward Island, the situation is the same but with the party colours reversed. If red is the new orange in Nova Scotia, orange is the new red in P.E.I.
CRA suggests that satisfaction with the Robert Ghiz government is weakening while the NDP is making ground.
As with Nova Scotia, the Island Tories are trailing in the wake of the other two parties. That’s what a leadership crisis and an unruly caucus will get you.
In New Brunswick, the Liberal party that everybody hated two years ago is enjoying a resurgence. The Liberals are at 47 support in the CRA poll, with the Tories sinking to 23 per cent from about 30 per cent in the last poll.
The David Alward Tories in New Brunswick are at a pretty weak 38 per cent satisfaction rating. Alward has a personal approval rating of 19 per cent; fewer than one in five New Brunswickers think he’s doing a good job.
No doubt Alward is thankful for the fact that there’s no election in New Brunswick for another year.
By the way, the situation is no different in Newfoundland and Labrador. The CRA poll for that province suggested a surge in support for the Liberal party, a slight drop for the NDP and the continued erosion of support for Premier Kathy Dunderdale and her Progressive Conservatives.
Dunderdale herself has an approval rating barely better than Alward’s.
But what the four polls from four different provinces have in common is that they all suggest that voters are grumpy. They aren’t happy with the way things are going, anywhere across the region. There are good reasons for that.
The first and most important is jobs, or the lack thereof. Nowhere in the Maritimes is employment growing at anything approaching a rate fast enough to instill public confidence.
Last Friday, Statistics Canada reported marginal improvements in the unemployment rate in P.E.I. and Nova Scotia and a full half-point increase in the jobless rate in New Brunswick. Nowhere was there anything to cheer about. In Maritime politics, jobs matter more than anything else.
When employment is growing, people naturally feel more optimistic and that translates into higher approval ratings for whatever party is in power. When it’s shrinking, people feel insecure and they tend to blame government.
But what really makes people grumpy is that they don’t see any government, or opposition party for that matter, with any new ideas. Alward is jumping up and down about the Energy East pipeline proposal, but there’s precious little in Nova Scotia or P.E.I. to cheer about.
The Nova Scotia government’s Jobs Start Here economic program is almost unknown among voters, according to another CRA poll.
And while there’s little out there to nurture economic optimism, there are lots of irritations coming from our governments. Taxes, power rates, gas prices and user fees are persistently high in all three provinces, near the top in Canada in almost every category. But government services don’t seem to keep pace.
If you think of voters as consumers, like the federal Conservatives do, then the equation is easy. It’s not a perfect analogy, but it’s safe to assume that when consumers/voters are paying more and getting less, they aren’t happy.
People across the Maritimes must be feeling that way. Their taxes go up, yet governments always seem to be reducing services or imposing new user fees.
The NDP government under Darrell Dexter is heading into a defence of the majority it won in 2009.
What happens in Nova Scotia will be watched right across the region, because elections are the perfect measure of voter grumpiness or joy.
Any government that wants to stay in office must offer measures that look like substantive progress on jobs and the economy. For Maritimers, everything else is just distraction.
Dan Leger is a Halifax-based writer and commentator.