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There's no 'straight line to paradise,' N.S. Premier tells NDP contenders

Nova Scotia Premier Darrell Dexter gives an interview in his Halifax office on March 1, 2012.

Sándor Fizli/sandor fizli The Globe and Mail

Darrell Dexter is preaching patience to his federal counterparts, warning there will be bumps along the road to "paradise."

The Nova Scotia Premier knows of what he speaks, having become the first NDP premier east of Ontario. And as he watches his party's federal leadership race intently, he has some advice for his colleagues.

In an interview with The Globe and Mail, Premier Dexter said NDP members are asking themselves a simple question as they assess the seven leadership candidates: "Who moves the party forward?"

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"That is the question to me," he said. "How do we move forward. And of course it was the same question that was presented to me when I entered the leader of the opposition's office back in 2001."

The leadership campaign is into its final stretch; candidates squared off in Montreal on Sunday will do convene this weekend in Vancouver for a final debate. The Nova Scotia Premier, who is not endorsing any candidate, is scheduled to speak the NDP convention at the end of the month in Toronto.

Ever the diplomat, he says the party doesn't have "anything to be ashamed of with any of our candidates."

Having attended the Halifax debate at the end of January and watched the other from afar, Mr. Dexter added: "They all presented really, really well."

First elected as an MLA in 1998, he took over the leader's office on an interim basis in 2001 and was elected to the post in 2002.

Just like federal New Democrats, Mr. Dexter said the Nova Scotia NDP had to figure out how to "gain the trust of people" in order to make the jump from Official Opposition to government.

"I keep telling people you shouldn't be surprised that there are bumps in that road," he said, noting his party went from 19 seats back to 12 and then to 15, 20, 25 and then "eventually became government" in 2009.

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"There's not a straight line to paradise," he said.

"... To be sustainable it's almost necessarily incremental. And we're impatient: Governments are impatient, political people are impatient. They want instantaneous results. But in some ways having a bit of patience is a pretty good thing."

Beyond the federal NDP race, the Premier is despairing about the state of politics in the country. He's concerned about Prime Minister Stephen Harper's approach to the provinces and dispirited by the robo-call scandal in Ottawa.

"When you see things like these extraordinarily dirty tricks it does make you pause and think about where the practice of politics is going," he said.

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