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Nova Scotia goes to the polls June 9 Add to ...

Sitting comfortably atop his rivals in polls going back more than a year, New Democrat Darrell Dexter is the man to beat in the Nova Scotia election called this morning.

Just don't tell him that.

"A good poll and a dollar-fifty will get you a cup of coffee," Mr. Dexter said last week, speaking about the possibility of the first NDP government in the province's history. "I don't pay the kind of attention to that that others do."

Nova Scotians will vote in a provincial election on June 9, the fifth election in 11 years.

Lt.-Gov. Mayann Francis dissolved the legislature today after the minority Conservative government of Premier Rodney MacDonald was defeated yesterday evening on a financial bill.

"We're not interested in an election, [the opposition parties]have forced us down that path," Mr. MacDonald told CTV News outside the House.

The Tories blame the opposition for toppling the government by voting against a money bill. The opposition parties have said for weeks that they could not support a bill that allows the government to divert funding from debt reduction to give the appearance of a balanced budget.

"It was the government that chose to bring us to this point," Liberal Leader Stephen McNeil charged as the election loomed. "Clearly this is a government that's taken this economic crisis and is trying to use it for political advantage."

Mr. MacDonald, who took his party to a slim victory in 2006, was the third straight premier to head a minority government in the province. A leading pollster said that trend is likely to continue.

"It looks like we're saddled with minority governments for the foreseeable future," said Don Mills, president of Corporate Research Associates.

The most recent polling by his company, released two months ago, describes a three-way race. The results show the NDP leading with 36 per cent and the Liberals and Tories essentially tied at 31 per cent and 30 per cent, respectively.

The NDP support has been firm through a number of polls, Mr. Mills said, adding that the Liberals are enjoying some momentum at the expense of the Tories.

Mr. Mills said the Liberal Leader, who is the newest among the three and had the lowest personal popularity rating in the most recent CRA poll, will have to work to define himself and Tories will have to articulate a platform that doesn't seem dated given their spate of pre-election spending announcements. As for the NDP, the pollster said its challenge is to do nothing that might scare voters and to secure as many Liberal supporters as possible.

Lori Turnbull, assistant professor in the department of political science at Dalhousie University, said that the role the New Democrats played in the legislature during the Tory minority government helps give them credibility.

"I don't think that Nova Scotians are afraid of an NDP government, that doesn't have the ring here it has in Ontario," she said. "At this point, this is Darrell Dexter's race to lose."

But Mr. Dexter asserts his party remains the underdog.

"We are going up against extraordinarily well-financed opposition with a tradition that goes back over 100 years," he stressed. "To take anything for granted would be a mistake."

As of last night, standings in the 52-seat legislature were: Conservatives, 21; NDP 20; Liberals nine; one Independent and one vacant seat.

With files from Canadian Press

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