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A fishing boat heads out into the Bay Of Fundy from Hall's Harbour, N.S. on Monday, June 8, 2009. Voters go to the polls across Nova Scotia today. Opinion surveys show the New Democratic Party with a lead in the close race followed by the Liberals, with the governing Progressive Conservatives in third place. An NDP victory would be a historic first in the Atlantic provinces.


Voters in Nova Scotia have turned their backs on the traditional parties in unprecedented numbers, giving the New Democrats a majority to shepherd the province through economic turmoil.

The party won 31 seats, the first time in the province's post-Confederation history that neither the Liberals nor Conservatives will hold power in the 52-seat legislature. The other two parties split the remaining seats.

The tired Tory government, which had worn out its welcome after a decade, lost about half its 21 seats. Leader Rodney MacDonald, seen as a fresh and youthful face three years ago, is unlikely to keep his job.

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The Grits have remained essentially static, putting in doubt Stephen McNeil's ability to rebuild the once-powerful party.

The scale of the NDP victory became clear early Tuesday night as heavyweight opponents tumbled before them. Long accustomed to their Halifax stronghold, the party finally broke through in the rest of Nova Scotia.

"Who could believe that NDP orange would cover Nova Scotia from Cumberland County right down through the [Annapolis]Valley, as far south as Shelburne County and right on through to Cape Breton," Leader Darrell Dexter asked his cheering supporters.

This is the first time an NDP government has been elected east of Ontario, but analysts say most citizens did not vote for and do not expect doctrinaire leftist policies.

"The reason that the NDP is becoming electable is they have shed so much of the hard-line policies and become a Pierre Trudeau [type of]liberal party," said Cape Breton University political science professor David Johnson.

"I see Dexter as very much ... the mould of a Pierre Trudeau character and I don't see him as a type of Tommy Douglas. I don't see a real social policy vision coming out of the Dexter NDP."

Indeed, Mr. Dexter struck a moderate note in his triumphal remarks.

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"I'm humbled by the trust that so many Nova Scotians have placed in the NDP," he said. "I take the NDP's new responsibilities very seriously ... we will use that mandate with due caution."

The NDP and Liberals pulled the plug on the minority Tory government when the legislature resumed sitting in early May.

Before the Tories tabled their budget, the last province in the country to do so, they tried to introduce a bill allowing them to balance the books with money destined by law for debt relief. That bill was voted down by the opposition parties, triggering the election.

The stakes were high for all the Leaders.

Mr. MacDonald headed a party running in third place in the polls. They tried to paint the NDP as a scary party - raising the spectre of Bob Rae's Ontario - but appeared unable to blunt a public desire for change.

Mr. McNeil insisted that the Liberals were in this election to win it. Analysts suspected, though, that he was hoping for a two-step strategy that would boost the party's prominence in this race and have a better chance in the next election. It's unclear now whether he will get that second chance.

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As for Mr. Dexter, his party had been methodically building the party's credibility. This was seen as their best chance and they topped opinion polls for more than a year. But the party had also come close to power in 1998 and then again 2006, falling just short each time.

The campaign was bruising at times for all three parties and turned occasionally nasty.

The NDP accepted and then returned questionable union donations, leading Mr. MacDonald to liken his NDP opponent to a car thief, making the analogy during a CTV roundtable less than a week before the vote.

The NDP fumed and demanded that the Tories pull "defamatory" radio ads about the donations but they continued to run through the weekend.




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