Nova Scotia NDP Leader Darrell Dexter, left, Progressive Conservative Leader Jamie Baillie, centre, and Liberal Leader Stephen McNeil, right, are all vying to be the next premier in today's provincial elections. Canadian Press
Nova Scotians head to the polls today to cast their votes and decide who will become the governing party of the 62nd general assembly.
At stake is whether the ruling New Democrats can win a second term — if they lose, it will be the first time in 131 years that Nova Scotians haven't given an incumbent party a second chance at running the province.
Legislature reporter Paul Withers takes a look at the five things you should watch for on election day:
1. Rural Nova Scotia made the NDP and it can break the NDP
One of the key issues for Nova Scotia's governing New Democratic Party is whether it can keep its seats in the rural parts of the province. Those districts were key to the party's victory in 2009, which marked the first time the New Democratic Party won power in any province east of Ontario and the first time in six years Nova Scotians elected a majority government.
When the orange wave swept through the province, the New Democrats were elected in every district along the Atlantic coast of mainland Nova Scotia. Ridings such as Colchester-Musquodoboit Valley, Cumberland North, Kings North and Truro-Bible Hill went to the NDP — a once unthinkable outcome in a political province that has tended to vote with tradition.
The question in today's election is whether the New Democratic Party, under Darrell Dexter, can hold that rural vote.
2. Will the Liberals shatter the NDP stronghold in Halifax?
Halifax and the surrounding urban areas have been traditional NDP strongholds. The New Democrats won 14 of 18 seats in the Halifax Regional Municipality in the 2009 election and 13 of 18 in the previous provincial election in 2006.
If there is a Liberal wave in Nova Scotia, expect at least some of these ridings to go red.
The Liberals and leader Stephen McNeil have targeted their campaign efforts in the Halifax-area ridings where NDP incumbents aren't seeking re-election. High-profile cabinet ministers Bill Estabrooks, Marilyn More and Graham Steele are not running and neither are longtime MLAs Howard Epstein and Michele Raymond.
There's good reason for the Liberals' focus on Halifax. In 2009, the Liberals won Clayton Park West, Dartmouth East, Bedford and Preston-Dartmouth — the only four seats in the Halifax Regional Municipality that did not go to the New Democratic Party.
3. If the NDP falters, can the Progressive Conservatives capitalize on its misfortune?
The 2009 provincial election marked the first time in Nova Scotia's post-Confederation history that neither the Liberals nor Progressive Conservatives held power in the legislature. The New Democratic Party's breakthrough came at the expense of traditional Tory seats — the NDP managed to take 12 ridings from the Progressive Conservatives.
Kings North is a prime example. The New Democrats took this seat for the first time ever in 2009, when Jim Morton won it and ended 31 consecutive years of Tory rule. If the New Democrats are losing, this seat should revert to the Progressive Conservatives.
The Tories expect the same scenario to play out in Pictou County where the New Democrats won all three seats and Colchester-Musquodoboit Valley.
If the New Democrats falter, can the Progressive Conservatives under Jamie Baillie capitalize on their misfortunes?
4. The veracity of polls
The polling industry in Canada has recently been dealt two heavy blows. Alberta Premier Alison Redford defied predictions in 2012 by holding off strong competition from the Wildrose Party to lead the Progressive Conservatives to another majority government. Then earlier this year, B.C. Premier Christy Clark defied the polls again and pulled off an upset victory for the Liberals against all expectations that the election belonged to the New Democratic Party.
The pollsters in Nova Scotia insist it won't happen here.
Each poll publicized after the Sept. 7 election call has suggested this election is the Liberals' to lose, with McNeil on track to handily defeat the ruling New Democratic Party.
This election also saw the provincial daily newspaper, the Chronicle Herald, publish daily rolling polls for the first time in its history. There are lingering questions about whether a daily barometer of public support for the parties and their leaders is a useful exercise — and no clear evidence on how rolling polls affect voters' behaviour.
5. What will happen to voter turnout?
More than 100,470 eligible Nova Scotians — approximately 15 per cent of the total number of electors — have cast their votes in the lead-up to the election, a significant increase over the 45,764 people who voted at advance polls in the 2009 provincial election.
In that election, only 58 per cent of eligible Nova Scotians found time to vote — the lowest turnout in the province's history.
Elections Nova Scotia responded with a plan to get more people out to vote by keeping polling stations open on all but four days of the campaign and staffing more polling stations at universities, hospitals, shelters, prisons and nursing homes.