Tom Urbaniak was reacting to returns that saw the Liberal vote on the island eroded, with even seats generally considered safe Liberal seats — for example in 2013 Geoff MacLellan was elected in Glace Bay with about 80 per cent of the vote but he was given a scare by the Progressive Conservatives’ John White — in play.
“It’s a solidarity story, where I think Cape Bretoners looked at a message that said building on a stronger Nova Scotia and they said, ‘where is the stronger Nova Scotia, we’re not seeing it here,’” he said. “Notwithstanding the power of incumbency in Cape Breton and the loyalty to individual MLAs and even respect for individual MLAs, many Cape Bretoners said that they wanted to park a protest vote.”
Some of the ridings remained too close by call by the Cape Breton Post’s midnight deadline.
The labour movement also likely played a key role in the results, Urbaniak said, particularly in light of the ongoing contract dispute with teachers. The continued deterioration of many Cape Breton communities also likely played into the results.
“Cape Breton has issued a wakeup call to the Liberal government and all Cape Bretoners should probably hope that that wakeup vote will be registered and that there will be some serious attention and some serious dialogue with Cape Breton communities about a new strategy and a new approach going forward.
In recent weeks health care and concerns over doctor shortages have dominated headlines in Cape Breton, with doctors who aren’t normally publicly politically engaged speaking out about changes instituted under the Liberals.
Dr. Jeanne Ferguson, a geriatric psychiatrist, said in an interview as results continue to come in that she believes health care was one of the defining issues of the election.
“I think it was inevitable … there are concerns coming from all over now which really reflects what we’re seeing in Cape Breton, we’re just a little ahead of the curve in some ways,” she said.
With only a couple of weeks to go in the campaign, hundreds of people packed the Memorial High gymnasium, with a standing-room-only crowd attending a doctor-led rally. Doctors held another event Friday at the Health Park in Sydney, which attracted a number of candidates of all political stripes. Doctors have said the move by the McNeil Liberals to centralize administration has resulted in the local voice being lost.
“I think health care is such an important issue for most Nova Scotians,” Ferguson said. “The Liberal government was responsible for bringing in the Nova Scotia Health Authority and I think that’s largely proven to be unsatisfactory, or certainly not meeting the needs. I think that’s perhaps caused some of what we’re seeing tonight.”
Urbaniak agreed that concerns about health care, the impact of centralization and the lack of access to family doctors had an impact on the results. He noted a report that came out mid-campaign that painted regionalization in a poor light and that said some decisions were being made based on political motivation harmed the McNeil government.
“It’s really remarkable when it might come down to a single poll or a recount,” Urbaniak said.
If the minority government status stands, Cape Breton will be the pivotal cause for it, Urbaniak said, predicting that message will not be lost. He added he expects MacLellan to continue to play an important in cabinet and will likely be charged with rebuilding the relationship between the party and Cape Breton.
MacLellan and Michel Samson in particular were high-profile members of the McNeil cabinet, often called upon to deliver key government messages and they both lost considerable support from prior contests.
“Geoff MacLellan is someone who is in tune with constituents and will likely reflect hard on all of the factors … he may be well-positioned to help Stephen McNeil recalibrate his policies and approach when it comes to Cape Breton,” Urbaniak said.
The strength of women candidates in the Cape Breton returns was also notable. Urbaniak noted province-wide there are many fresh faces heading to Halifax.
Samson’s results in Cape Breton-Richmond were particularly interesting, Urbaniak said. At 19 years, Samson had the longest current unbroken streak as MLA, having first been elected at age 25 and was challenged by a political newcomer in the PC’s Alana Paon.
Urbaniak said he will be interested to see the poll-by-poll results for that riding to see if Samson maintained his support in Isle Madame and whether the portions of the riding adding in the last redistribution harmed him. Richmond last elected a Tory provincially in 1984.
Final Cape Breton vote results (unofficial):
Cape Breton-Richmond - 42 of 42 polls
Alana Paon, Progressive Conservative - 3,335
Michel Sampson, Liberal - 3,316
Larry Keating, NDP - 1,006
Sydney-Whitney Pier - 50 of 50 polls
Derek Mombourquette, Liberal - 3,481
Madonna Doucette, NDP - 339
Laurie MacIntosh, Progressive Conservative - 2,173
Cape Breton Centre - 39 of 39 polls
Tammy Martin, NDP - 2,820
David Wilton, Liberal - 2,158
Louie Pioveson, Progressive Conservative - 1,531
Glace Bay - 38 of 38 polls
Geoff MacLellan, Liberal - 3,316
John White, Progressive Conservative - 2,938
Lois MacDougall, NDP - 715
Steven James MacNeil, Atlantica - 137
Sydney River-Mira-Louisbourg - 46 of 46 polls
Alfie MacLeod, Progressive Conservative - 6,317
Katherine MacDonald, Liberal - 2,218
Bill Matheson, NDP - 809
Inverness - 39 of 39 polls
Allan MacMaster, Progressive Conservative - 4,687
Bobby Morris, Liberal - 2,347
Michelle Smith, NDP - 538
Victoria-The Lakes - 40 of 40 polls
Keith Bain, Progressive Conservative - 4,373
Pam Eyking, Liberal - 1,966
Lisa Bond, NDP - 544
Adrianna MacKinnon, Green - 265
Stewart (Stemer) MacLeod, Independent - 193
Northside-Wesmount - 45 of 45 polls
Eddie Orrell, Progressive Conservative - 5941
John Higgins, Liberal - 1,984
Ronald Crowther, NDP - 1,437