NDP launches campaign ahead of Nova Scotia election call

Nova Scotians to go to the polls on May 30

The preacher was in his element.

NDP Leader Gary Burrill stood at the centre of a crowd of about 300 people to launch his party's campaign on Sunday in Dartmouth, N.S., and for 20 minutes, the United Church minister had his political congregation eating out of the palm of his hand.

Burrill painted Premier Stephen McNeil's Liberal government as "morally deficient," one that placed balancing the budget at all costs ahead of helping people who needed it most and one that picked fights with and went after people who want to help the province, such as teachers and health-care workers.

Little of what Burrill had to say on Sunday came as a surprise for anyone who has followed him and the issues he's championed since becoming the party's leader 14 months ago: he called for a $15 per hour minimum wage; steps to reduce food bank usage; class size caps for grades primary to 12; and making community college tuition free, something the party says would cost about $31 million a year.

'We're ready to go'

But in many ways it was a coming out party of sorts for Burrill, who is by far the least known of the three major party leaders. Despite widespread speculation an election call could be less than a week away, the writ still hasn't officially dropped.

Burrill said that hasn't stopped others from campaigning, so he figured it was time to get on with things.

"The McNeil Liberals for over a month have been in full rum and nylons mode, running around the province giving out a half a million dollars every 20 minutes," he said.

"We know the kind of approach that they take and we know what that means. So we're on the verge on an election, so we're ready to go."

Fighting for his own seat

Unlike McNeil and Tory Leader Jamie Baillie, Burrill has the added challenge of facing a particularly stiff test to win a seat in the House. While the others likely will spend most of their time on the road campaigning, Burrill, who does not currently have a seat in the House, is going to have to put in lots of time where he's running in the district of Halifax Chebucto.

But he noted he isn't the first leader to face such a challenge and he believes party supporters are up to the task of getting him — and more New Democrat MLAs — elected when the time comes.

Ready to govern

After years of working toward forming government, the party saw its first ever term in power end in a resounding electoral defeat in 2013. On Sunday, Burrill presented the party as different than the one that lost four years ago, one that's ready to govern now and would govern differently than governments past.

"I think we're in a new moment, to a great extent," he said. "There is a growing understanding amongst people that this politics of cutting and pruning back and taking back and a hyper-focus on balancing the budget has not got us to where we need to go."