A day after winning Nova Scotia's first back-to-back majority governments in nearly 30 years, Premier Stephen McNeil signalled he will continue to take a tough line with the province's public sector unions in his new mandate.
McNeil's first term in office was marked by labour strife as his Liberal government tried to rein in costs through wage restraint for teachers and civil servants.
Several contracts remain to be settled and McNeil was asked Wednesday how he plans to approach new deals for health care and other workers represented by the Nova Scotia Government and General Employees Union.
"We are going to continue to live within our means," said McNeil.
"Nova Scotians gave our government a second majority ... and I'm looking forward to continuing to provide them with the government that they endorsed last night (Tuesday.)"
McNeil wouldn't say when the legislature would be recalled to pass the budget that was tabled three days before the April 30 election call. He said he had other immediate priorities, such as putting together a transition team and then naming a new cabinet.
Progressive Conservative Leader Jamie Baillie, who lost his second bid for government, said Wednesday he would stay on as leader for the upcoming legislative session, and "will take a look at where things are after that."
After winning 17 seats, Baillie said he's eager for the house to be recalled to deal with the Liberal budget. He has said the budget has to include more for health care and mental health.
"The business of Nova Scotia has to go on," said Baillie, a chartered accountant who served as CEO of Credit Union Atlantic before becoming party leader in 2010.
"We have urgent needs in health care and in mental health and I expect those to be addressed very quickly."
McNeil said the plan is to pass the same budget with some potential health-related additions, an issue largely seen to have contributed to the Liberals' loss of seven seats Tuesday.
"We'll assess that," McNeil said. "There's no question we heard about health care. We believe in our budget that we had things that would have addressed some of the issues that we heard, but we also heard some other issues that we may package up as part of that."
The Liberals won 27 seats but lost three ridings in Cape Breton – unseating one cabinet minister and nearly unseating another.
Energy Minister Michel Samson was defeated by a razor-thin margin in Cape Breton-Richmond, trailing his PC rival Alana Paon by 20 votes in the final count.
The NDP won Cape Breton Centre, while the PC candidate for Victoria-The Lakes beat the Liberal incumbent by 60 votes.
"Cape Breton sent a message in this campaign," said Tom Urbaniak, a political science professor at Cape Breton University. "Many Cape Bretoners were asking, 'Is the crisis we perceive in our region being taken seriously in the halls of power in Halifax?"' Many Cape Bretoners felt that their concerns about health care and economic decline fell on deaf ears in the McNeil government, driving support for the opposition parties, said Urbaniak.
He said it will be up to Cape Breton's Liberal "survivors" to reset the party's relationship with the island, particularly re-elected Transportation Minister Geoff MacLellan, whose fate in Glace Bay was unclear until about 1 a.m. Wednesday.
On Wednesday, McNeil said he knows there has been an outcry for more local input to the province's centralized health authority.
"One of the things we heard, not just from Cape Breton but from other regions, was that they hadn't felt their voice was being heard in the new health authority. That doesn't mean we're going to move away from the one health authority but it means we need to make sure there is a regional voice."
McNeil also said he felt he could tackle pressing issues in areas including health care without going into the red.
"I believe we can do that without running deficits," said McNeil. "I believe we can do that within the surplus that we have."
The Liberals won 27 seats – marking the first time the province has seen back-to-back majorities since 1988.
The NDP under Gary Burrill won seven seats in an election that saw some of the lowest voter turnouts on record.