Cablegate: Provincial Politics in Atlantic Canada: Who's in and Who's

Published: Sat 13 Nov 2004 06:06 PM
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
131842Z Nov 04
E.O. 12958: N/A
1. INTRODUCTION AND SUMMARY: This fall has proven to be a busy
season for provincial politicians in Atlantic Canada. Minority
governments, shortened legislative sessions, by-elections, and
party leadership changes have combined to create more attention
than usual on what's going on both inside and outside the four
legislatures. Accordingly, we have taken a snapshot look at
each of the provinces showing the situation in each with a few
predictions on what's in store for the region.
2. Both New Brunswick and Nova Scotia are facing minority
governments suggesting a decline in the Conservative Party's
sway in these provinces. In N.B. the Liberals are the strongest
potential challenger, while in N.S. it is the NDP. In the short
term neither of these provincial governments seem likely to be
overturned, but in the longer term observers should not be
surprised to see electoral change. In Newfoundland and Labrador
and Prince Edward Island the Conservative leadership is
experiencing more popularity. Only in Newfoundland could the
popularity be fleeting, pending the Premier's success in
negotiations with Ottawa. Thus it will be interesting to watch
whether the potential fall of the Conservatives in N.B. or N.S.
will shake the popularity of the Conservatives in PEI and
Newfoundland and Labrador. END INTRODUCTION/SUMMARY
New Brunswick
3. Lt. Governor Herminigilde Chiasson (Appointed for a five
year term on August 26, 2003)
Premier: Bernard Lord (Party: Progressive Conservatives)
Most recent election: June 9, 2003
Current Party Standings in the House (55 seats in total)
Progressive Conservatives 28
(Leader: Bernard Lord since October 18, 1997
Liberals 26
(Leader: Shawn Graham since May 11, 2002
New Democrats 1
(Leader: Elizabeth Weir since 1988)
Election history: Bernard Lord and his Conservative party have
ruled New Brunswick since they overturned the incumbent Liberals
in the June 1999 election.
Current political scene: While portrayed as a rising star on
the national political stage, Conservative Premier Bernard Lord
is suffering from popularity problems with the folks at home.
Lord's tough policy decisions on health care reform have created
widespread unrest throughout the province and have stirred up
serious dissention in the party ranks over how the Premier
handled contentious issues such as hospital bed closures and
downgrading hospitals. Helping to fan the flames of discontent
is Liberal Opposition leader Shawn Graham, now openly talking of
bringing down the government in the next legislative session of
the house.
The possibility of an eventual non-confidence motion has led
Graham to institute a series of personnel changes in his caucus
office including the addition of a new chief of staff whose
principal job will be to prepare the party for battle with the
Conservatives. However, the Liberals are still struggling with
a credibility problem among the electorate. Hesitancy is thus
the play of the day, with some Liberal rank and file calling for
restraint in order to allow the party to build up more momentum
before forcing a new election. The NDP is similarly reluctant to
bring down the current government. The current NDP leader
Elizabeth Weir, who holds the party's only seat in the house,
recently announced her resignation as leader, although there is
no date yet for a convention to pick a replacement. All things
considered, this will make the next New Brunswick legislative
session the one to watch in the region.
Nova Scotia
4. Lt. Governor: Myra A. Freeman (Appointed for a five year
term on April 28, 2000)
Premier: John F. Hamm (Party: Progressive Conservatives-PC)
Most Recent Election: August 5, 2003
Party Standings in the House (52 seats in total)
Progressive Conservatives 25
(Leader: John F. Hamm since October 28, 1995)
Liberals 12
(Leader: Francis Mackenzie since October 23, 2004)
New Democrats 15
(Leader: Darrell Dexter since June 4, 2001)
Election History: John Hamm and his Conservatives have been
governing Nova Scotia since July 1999 when they defeated the
incumbent Liberal government by a wide majority.
Current political scene: Like his counterpart in New Brunswick,
Nova Scotia premier John Hamm is in a precarious minority
situation, although the opposition is split with the NDP forming
the official opposition and the Liberals in third place. The
NDP has done very well in the province, offering a cooperative
attitude in working with the incumbent Tories to keep the
government afloat.
With the NDP viewed as a credible alternative to the ruling
Tories, the Liberals appear destined to remain in third place.
The Liberals have been plagued with weak leadership and this
does not seem to have changed with the recent newly elected
leader, Francis MacKenzie. MacKenzie does not have a seat in the
legislature and will likely have to wait until another general
election before he has a chance to enter the house. Thus it
seems that John Hamm's popularity may be slipping and this will
likely work in favor of the NDP leaving the Liberals to cool
their heels for the time being.
5. Lt. Governor Edward M. Roberts (Appointed for a five year
term on November 1, 2002)
Premier: Danny Williams (Party: Progressive Conservatives-PC)
Most recent election: October 21, 2003
Party Standings in the House (48 seats in total)
Conservatives 34
(Leader: Danny Williams since April 7, 2001)
Liberals 12
(Leader: Roger Grimes since February 3, 2001)
New Democrats 2
(Leader: Jack Harris since November, 1992)
Election History: With their win in the October 2003 provincial
election, Premier Williams and his Tories upset a 12-year long
Liberal administration.
Current political scene: Premier Danny Williams recently
celebrated his first-year anniversary, but he admits that it has
been a tough year. After reviewing the province's fiscal
situation last year, Williams said he had no choice but to
institute tough measures to bring the province's fiscal
situation under control and enduring a contentious public sector
strike. While fiscal watchers applauded the government's tough
stance, the measures left the government shaken. However,
Williams has seen a surge in popularity with his firm stance
with the federal government on a revenue sharing agreement on
offshore energy projects. Should Williams get his way in this
current dispute with Ottawa, it would be the crowning
achievement for Williams and one that even opposition leader
Roger Grimes admits he would applaud. Due to the popularity of
Williams' position on revenue sharing, Grimes and the two NDP
members have been forced to instead zero in on Williams'
personal style of one-man showmanship, hence their new name for
the Premier, the "Daniator."
Prince Edward Island
6. Lt. Governor J. Lionce Bernard (Appointed for a five year
term on May 28, 2001)
Premier: Patrick George Binns (Party: Progressive Conservatives)
Most Recent Election: September 29, 2003
Party Standings in the House (27 seats in total)
(Leader: Patrick George Binns since May 4, 1996
(Leader: Robert Ghiz since April 5, 2003)
Election History: Pat Binns and the Conservatives have been
governing Prince Edward Island since 1996 when they overturned a
10-year incumbent Liberal government
Current political scene: Premier Pat Binns is enjoying continued
support from Islanders, making it difficult for Liberal
Opposition Leader Robert Ghiz to make many inroads. In fact,
pundits believe that it would take the eventual retirement of
the popular Binns to open up any opportunities for Ghiz. As for
the NDP, the party has never elected a member either federally
or provincially, and still appears unprepared to make any
7. COMMENT: In the last decade the Atlantic Provinces have
borne witness to the almost universal defeat in provincial
legislatures of the previously dominant Liberal Party in favor
of the Progressive Conservatives. At the federal level,
however, the story has been different: in the June 2004 election
the Liberals took a significant majority of the region's seats
in the Parliament in Ottawa. The question to ask while
watching the Atlantic Provinces in future will be whether this
"spell" of Conservatism was simply an attempt on the part of
Atlantic Canadians to express their dissatisfaction with the
perceived financial irresponsibility of provincial Liberal
governments or whether this is indicative of a general shift in
8. The decline in the popularity of the Conservatives in Nova
Scotia and New Brunswick indicates that the former may be the
more accurate analysis, however the situation is less clear in
the other two Atlantic Provinces. If the past few years were
just a warning, then watchers will likely see a return to the
center following a restructuring and redefinition of the
alternative parties. As mentioned, the province to watch will
be New Brunswick, both because the politics are interesting in
themselves, but also because N.B. could be the bellwether for a
more general trend away from the Tories in provincial
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