HALIFAX — Nova Scotia's opposition parties have officially launched their campaigns in anticipation of an election call that could come as soon as this weekend thanks to an apparent gaffe by the governing Liberal party.
Progressive Conservative Leader Jamie Baillie was greeted by cheers as he took the stage before scores supporters at a campaign rally in Dartmouth, N.S., on Saturday. It didn't take long for him to poke fun at his opponents' seeming campaign misfire Friday, when the Liberals released — and promptly pulled — a video advertising a May 30 election date.
Premier Stephen McNeil has brushed off the video — which included a typo in the party's slogan, "Building on a Stronger Nova Scotia," spelling it as "Bulding" — as a mock-up of an ad rather than a signal of an imminent election.
The Elections Nova Scotia website says an election period is "not less than 30 days" from the date the writ.
Standing before three panels emblazoned "Vision, Action, Baillie," the Tory leader told the crowd that the Liberals' campaign leak was a symptom of broader mismanagement within the party leadership.
"I didn't look behind me when I came up here. Did we spell vision right?" Baillie joked. "Quite a way to launch a campaign, eh?"
Baillie said, if elected, he would implement a fixed election date of Oct. 30 to avoid further campaign confusion — but a PC party aide later clarified that the leader misspoke, and meant to say May 30.
Nova Scotia is the only province in Canada without a fixed election date.
Baillie blasted McNeil for breaking campaign pledges from the province's last election cycle, including promising a doctor for every Nova Scotian and to extend the province's film tax credit. He took particular aim at the premier's combative attitude toward labour, including legislating an end to a drawn-out dispute with Nova Scotia's teachers union in February.
"He (McNeil) is pulling this province apart, and we have the scars to show for it," said Baillie. "My style of leadership is very different. I want to bring people together. ... This election is about healing."
Baillie accused the premier of underhanded campaign tactics, including a budget he claimed McNeil knew would never stand to legislative scrutiny as the party was "plotting" an election call.
Baillie also stoked tensions between the premier and the mayor of Nova Scotia's capital. Halifax Mayor Mike Savage, a former Liberal MP, voiced concerns this week about the province's decision to put a new outpatient health centre in a suburban business park.
Last week, McNeil unveiled the six-hectare site in Bayers Lake — purchased by the province for $7.5 million — for the development of a new outpatient hospital, a retail park with big-box outlet stores and restaurants.
Savage said the project came as a "surprise" to the municipality.
Baillie characterized the real estate deal as a handout to Liberal donors, coming on the heels of weeks-long government spending spree.
The PC leader took issue with what he called the McNeil government's dim view of Nova Scotia's prospects, insisting that the province has the "ingredients" for prosperity despite the Liberals' belt-tightening budgetary measures.
Baillie proposed a plan to ban the term "have not" from the English dictionary, which he later told reporters was meant to contrast the two parties' visions for the future of Nova Scotia.
"My point is that we've had four years of Stephen McNeil telling us that we have nothing, that we're broke, that we can't have the services we want. I have a very different view," Baillie said at a news conference after the rally. "I know we can be doing so much better than this. I know we can put Nova Scotians back to work, rebuilding the infrastructure of this province."
Baillie said the Conservatives will be rolling out their platform in the days ahead.
The provincial NDP party hosted their own campaign kickoff last Sunday.
Adina Bresge, The Canadian Press