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What I Learned About Politics: Inside the Rise -- and Collapse -- of Nova Scotia's NDP Government

03/09/2015 05:54 EDT | Updated 05/09/2015 05:59 EDT
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Graham Steele is nominated for the Writers' Trust Shaughnessy Cohen Prize for Political Writing for his book What I Learned About Politics: Inside the Rise - and Collapse - of Nova Scotia's NDP Government. The prize winner will be announced at the Politics and the Pen gala in Ottawa on March 11. For more information, visit www.writerstrust.com.

An excerpt from What I Learned About Politics:

I didn't get into politics to be part of the best opposition Nova Scotia ever had. After eight years of provincial NDP leader Darrell Dexter's slow, patient build, I'd had enough of waiting. I told my wife that if we didn't win the 2009 election, I wouldn't run again.

We did win, and we won decisively.

For me, the night of June 9, 2009, was surprisingly low-key. Our win was so widely expected, and we had been leading the polls for so long, that it seemed anti-climactic when it happened. Gordie Gosse, my NDP colleague from the Whitney Pier neighbourhood of Sydney, told me about visiting a long-time New Democrat in his constituency who cried with happiness at having lived to see an NDP government. For me, who grew up with an NDP government in Manitoba, it was no big deal. It was the logical next step, that's all.

My campaign office in the Bayers Road Centre was quiet, as it always is on an election night. The work was done. We discouraged our volunteers from returning to campaign headquarters, asking them instead to head for the victory party at the Dartmouth Holiday Inn.

2015-03-09-1425908021-5670124-Steele_WhatILearned.jpgA well-run campaign knows the election result before the ballots are counted. That, after all, is the point of all the effort devoted to voter contact and get-out-the-vote. But you still feel the butterflies. Maybe you got it all wrong. Once the polls have closed, though, all you need is a single poll result to know the trend. As soon as our scrutineers started calling in the results, we knew we had won handily in Halifax Fairview. I headed over to the Holiday Inn.

The shape of our provincial victory was encouraging. Voters all along the South Shore, all the way down to the Yarmouth County line, had elected New Democrats. Most of northern Nova Scotia was orange, including Cumberland North, after former Conservative minister Ernie Fage, now running as an Independent, split the Conservative vote. We won all three seats in Pictou County, including John Hamm's former seat in Pictou Centre. We made no inroads on Cape Breton Island, but Gordie Gosse and Frank Corbett easily kept the two seats we had. We had stretched into the Annapolis Valley, for the first time since 1984, and were thoroughly dominant in most of Halifax Regional Municipality and up the Eastern Shore as far as Guysborough County. We would later add Antigonish in the by-election following the resignation of Conservative deputy premier Angus MacIsaac.

We had lost only one seat, when Joan Massey was defeated by Liberal Andrew Younger in Dartmouth East. Joan's defeat was later held out to our rookie MLAs as a lesson about what happens when an MLA doesn't do enough constituency work. There were other NDP MLAs who were weak constituency workers but who swept to impressive victories. A rising tide lifted all boats, except for Joan's.

There weren't as many people at the Holiday Inn as I expected, and the room was not large. Eventually we all got up on the stage, Darrell gave his speech, and it was over. I was expecting to get a charge out of the victory party, but I didn't.

We did not know, as we stood on the stage behind Darrell, that the seeds of our destruction were already sown. For all our time in office we struggled against the consequences of two things that were already done and unchangeable when we walked onto that stage: Darrell's promise not to raise taxes, and MLA expenses. On the night of our victory, our defeat was already written. We just didn't know it.

Excerpted from What I Learned About Politics: Inside the Rise - and Collapse - of Nova Scotia's NDP Government (Nimbus Publishing 2014) by Graham Steele.