The Liberals are on their way back in Atlantic Canada. All four provincial wings of the party are now leading in the polls in their respective provinces – and helping to establish a critical beachhead for Justin Trudeau in the 2015 election.
"I can't remember the last time it happened," said Don Mills, head of Corporate Research Associates, the polling firm based in Halifax. "We actually have a point in time where the Liberals are ahead in all four provinces. … It's quite unusual, as you might expect."
For Chris MacInnes, who successfully managed the recent Nova Scotia election campaign for the Liberals that resulted in a majority government – after 14 years in opposition – the ascendancy of his party in the region has implications across the country.
"The rising tide lifts all boats," he said. "You're building confidence among your members. You're showing that you can win elections … it goes to momentum."
There is much cross-pollination between the provincial wings and the federal party. For example, Mr. MacInnes is the vice-president, English, for the federal Liberals – and so has a national view of the party and issues.
He hired David Herle, a key strategist to former prime minister Paul Martin, to poll and provide analysis during the recent Nova Scotia election. Mr. Herle and his team are now polling for the Liberals in New Brunswick, where there are fixed election dates and the provincial vote is scheduled for next fall. (In addition, Mr. Herle is a senior member of Ontario Liberal Premier Kathleen Wynne's campaign team.)
Meanwhile, Mr. MacInnes is sharing the lessons learned from the Nova Scotia campaign with his New Brunswick colleagues, including Dominic LeBlanc, the Liberal MP for Beausejour, who is the chair of the New Brunswick provincial campaign for the Liberals.
Their leader, former lawyer Brian Gallant, was elected to the top job late last year but is already polling well ahead of Progressive Conservative Premier David Alward. A CRA poll released in September shows the Liberals with 47 per cent support compared to 23 per cent for the PCs; the NDP are at 24 per cent support.
Mr. Gallant's riding is in Mr. LeBlanc's federal riding and the MP has served as a mentor to the provincial Liberal leader. Last month, former prime minister Jean Chretien was the keynote speaker at a fundraiser for Mr. Gallant and the Liberals in Moncton where $300,000 was raised from 600 participants. According to a well-placed source there are over 300 Liberals who have expressed interest in running in the 49 provincial ridings.
Pollster Mills credits Mr. Trudeau and the new face he has put on the federal Liberals with the party's ascension in the Atlantic. "Trudeau has spent some time down here. He has helped revive the brand both nationally and regionally," said Mr. Mills.
Mr. Trudeau campaigned with Nova Scotia Liberal leader Stephen McNeil during the fall election. Last February, Mr. Gallant spent three days campaigning with Mr. Trudeau in New Brunswick, during Mr. Trudeau's bid for the leadership.
Like the NDP's Dexter government that was just voted out in Nova Scotia, the Alward government in New Brunswick has been in power for only one term. It is struggling with one of the highest unemployment rates in the country and no real economic prospects to boost its fortunes.
But Mr. Mills does not believe the rise of the Liberals is due to their ideas or platform – "My hypothesis is in this region, at least, our dependence on government is at the high end … When government can't fix things then people get cranky and when they get cranky they want to throw the bums out and replace them with whoever is next in line."
Mr. MacInnes disagrees. Although he acknowledges Mr. Trudeau's help, he believes, too, that issues made a difference in the last election.
In 2011, right after the federal election, the Liberals in Nova Scotia plummeted to third place in the polls, a result of the federal party under Michael Ignatieff plummeting to third place in the country.
A year later – in August 2012, the Liberals ran a series of pre-writ ads attacking the NDP government, accusing it of mismanaging power rates and economic development.
A senior NDP strategist, who asked not to be identified, acknowledges the ads were effective. The Darrell Dexter government did not respond to them quickly or directly – and not challenging them with any vigour led the electorate to believe the accusations to be true.
Those ads helped to pull the Liberals up to first place in the polls – and the party never looked back.
Jane Taber is The Globe's Atlantic bureau chief.