Nova Scotia Premier Darrell Dexter has called a provincial election for Oct. 8 with the economy, leadership and energy expected to be the big issues in the 31-day campaign.
Dexter made the announcement Saturday in the Cape Breton town of Port Hawkesbury, where his government helped keep a paper mill running with a $124.5-million aid package in 2012.
“This election is about whether Nova Scotians will risk turning back to the Liberals or building a better future for today’s families with the NDP,” Dexter said.
“Today, I am humbly asking for the NDP to be given the opportunity to use the experience we have gained and to keep building a better future, because there is a lot more work to do.”
The NDP released its platform Friday, promising to remove balance the books for the next four years while removing the harmonized sales tax on family purchases such as car seats and strollers.
The Liberals and Progressive Conservatives have yet to release their platforms.
At dissolution, the NDP held 31 seats in the legislature, the Liberals 12 and the Tories seven. Two seats were vacant.
The start of the election campaign comes a day after the NDP released its platform in Halifax, promising to keep the books balanced for the next four years while removing the harmonized sales tax from purchases such as car seats for children and strollers.
The NDP says the promise to cut the HST on goods it describes as “family essentials” and keeping home energy bills exempt from the tax would cost an estimated $3.2-million annually. The party plans to make more items exempt from the HST, but Dexter said details of those would come later in the campaign.
Dexter is basing his campaign on seven broad commitments that he says won’t cost Nova Scotia more than $34.4-million annually.
Both opposition leaders doubt Dexter’s ability to keep Nova Scotia in the black while promising tax cuts and increased spending.
Liberal Leader Stephen McNeil, who said Saturday his party will release its platform in the first week of the campaign, accused the NDP of failing to release the exact cost of its commitments.
“What really jumped out at us, quite frankly, wasn’t what was there but what wasn’t there and that was the fact that they haven’t fully costed it,” he said in Halifax.
“They’ve thrown out a number which is unrealistic.”
McNeil, 48, believes the NDP won’t be able to balance the budget as projected in this fiscal year because it has committed to $53.7-million in new spending over the summer in addition to the costs of its platform promises.
McNeil, who has been the centre of attacks from the Tories and NDP, is the acknowledged front-runner in the campaign, with Dexter telling reporters last week that he is used to the role of the underdog.
Progressive Conservative Leader Jamie Baillie accused Dexter of financial mismanagement, saying another NDP-led government would bring economic disaster to a province that posted a record net debt of $14-billion in the 2012-13 fiscal year.
“We can leave behind a Nova Scotia that looks like Detroit and Greece, a ruined economy with no hope for a brighter future tomorrow,” Baillie, 47, a former accountant and head of a credit union, said while campaigning in Halifax.
“Or we can give our children a Nova Scotia where they can make a life for themselves and their families here at home. But doing that, building a stronger Nova Scotia, requires a true change in direction.”
This is the first time Baillie has led his party into an election campaign.
The campaign will be fought on a new electoral map that cuts the number of seats in the legislature to 51 from 52.
Dexter, a 55-year-old lawyer, led the NDP to its first victory in Atlantic Canada in 2009.
The party’s win was greeted by a wave of optimism as he was given a strong majority government by voters after successive Tory minorities, but the NDP’s popularity began to slide after it raised the HST by two percentage points in 2010. Dexter promised no tax increases in the last election.
The NDP has since passed legislation that will see the tax return its previous level of 13 per cent in 2015, something McNeil has said the Liberals will not commit to until they know for sure the province’s budget is balanced.
On Saturday, McNeil said a Liberal government would try to achieve a balanced budget in its first mandate.
“We’ve made it very clear that before anyone can reduce the HST in this province we would have to have a balanced budget,” said McNeil, who is in his second campaign as party leader.