With the votes cast and ballots counted, the unofficial numbers of the May 30 provincial election provided by Elections Nova Scotia have many stories to tell.
Without a doubt, the biggest story of the night was the ouster of veteran Liberal MLA and cabinet minister Michel Samson in Cape Breton-Richmond by first-time Progressive Conservative candidate Alana Paon.
While only a 21-vote majority, Paon earned the victory with decisive wins in communities like St. Peter’s and River Bourgeois, while also doing well in Port Hawkesbury, L’Ardoise, Louisdale, and D’Escousse, to the surprise of many.
Few predicted, and few provincial polls asserted, that Samson was in the trouble he found himself on election night. Most watchers would have expected a narrow victory for the Petit de Grat native, as was the case with his caucus colleagues in the Strait area and across the province.
But that was not the case. Even in polls she lost, Paon did well in areas like Arichat, Petit de Grat and West Arichat, as well as the few other polls in which she finished second in Cape Breton County and mainland Richmond County.
At one point in the evening, the PC candidate even opened up a 165-vote advantage, which Samson later narrowed significantly after Isle Madame polls reported, but it was a case of too little, too late for the veteran politician.
On the subject of Samson’s aforementioned Liberal Ccaucus colleagues, many polls predicted a close race in Antigonish. For parts of election night, it appeared as though that would be the case, but eventually, Liberal incumbent and cabinet minister Randy Delorey pulled away, enough for a 738-vote victory over first time PC candidate Ray Mattie.
Some polls and information on the ground indicated a close race in Inverness, which was not hard to believe given PC candidate Allan MacMaster’s small majorities in past elections, but as was the case with Antigonish, the incumbent won by 2,340 votes. Given the strength of Tory numbers across Cape Breton, that should not have come as much of a surprise in hindsight.
Another member of the Liberal caucus, and now the next provincial government, Lloyd Hines, had a far less comfortable win on election night in the riding of Guysborough-Eastern Shore-Tracadie. After being behind for parts of the evening, the long time warden and municipal councillor eked out an 71-vote victory, after facing a tough challenge from PC candidate Rob Wolf.
Aside from the strong performance of the Tories across the region, the other big story of the election was the collapse of the NDP vote. The NDP finished a distant third in all four ridings in the Strait area, with only two candidates receiving more than 1,000 votes.
Perhaps that performance could be one of the factors in the surprising strength of the Tories, but there were other factors at play.
The Nova Scotia Teachers Union and the Nova Scotia Government and General Employees Union were instrumental in dumping Liberal incumbents across Nova Scotia, despite their failure to turf the McNeil Liberals from majority status. Their high profile on social media and constant criticism of the McNeil government certainly convinced many people to vote anything but Liberal, and in the vast majority of cases, to mark their ballots for the PCs instead of the NDP.
Their involvement, mixed with existing local issues, converged in an election that will be talked about for many years.