Down East 2013 ©
A landmark election  last week in Nova Scotia, Maine’s Northeastern neighbor, has sidelined the two historically-dominant political parties and brought a democratic-socialist government to power, a first in the history of Eastern Canada.
In addition to its geographic proximity, Nova Scotia shares major policy issues with Maine and the other members of “Atlantica ,” including energy, transportation, and demographics, as well as a similar culture and a resource-based economy. Could a similar swing to the left happen here?
Despite the cultural, economic and geographic similarities, the political system in Nova Scotia and Canada is fundamentally different from Maine and the United States.
Perhaps the biggest factor is the difference in the role of political parties. In Maine, a politician’s party is a sign of their broad ideological beliefs, but they’re able to take positions all over the spectrum on a wide range of issues and still call themselves a Republican or a Democrat.
In Nova Scotia, the organization of their parliamentary democracy means that parties have a very different role. The Premier of the province is not elected through a direct vote like the governor of Maine but instead by gaining a majority (or sometimes a plurality) of the seats in the legislature. Nova Scotians don’t have the choice of voting for the person alone, without also showing support for the party and its leadership. MLAs also must almost always vote the party line, or risk being expelled from the party.
There’s also less of an ideological gap between the parties. All three major parties in the province have recently trended towards the center-left on a range of issues. The Progressive Conservative party (the most right-leaning party), for instance, won the previous election after promising lower tuition and universal drug care. Nova Scotia’s New Democratic Party didn’t promise any major ideologically-based reforms in the last election, and instead ran mostly on the idea of providing a more effective government than the incumbent Premier.
Despite these differences, the rise of the NDP may offer a political lesson to our state’s own third party, the Green-Independents. The NDP succeeded in overcoming an entrenched two-party system, a feat the Greens eventually hope to emulate.
The way they did so was by slowly, over a period of decades, building power in the legislature. An elected presence, even if it was just one or two members, allowed them to develop policy and leadership and helped the public at large get used to their presence in the political forum.
Eventually, when the MacDonald government imploded due to scandal (both political and personal) and economic recession, the NDP had a popular, well-known leader and a deep bench of candidates ready to take over.
Based on this model, it would seem the Greens would be better served in focusing on actually getting one or two members elected to legislative office in their Portland base, rather than contesting other state and federal races all over Maine. While they must run a candidate for governor to maintain their status as a party, they should view these gubernatorial races as simply necessary to get their 5% support rather than a real opportunity to win power any time soon.
Mike Tipping publishes Mainepolitics.net and works for the Maine People's Alliance.