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Nova Scotia elects historic NDP majority

VANCOUVER - New Democrats have broken into unchartered territory tonight, forming their first government east of Ontario.

Nova Scotians gave NDP leader Darrell Dexter and his party a majority win with 31 of the province’s 52 seats.

“Who would believe that NDP orange would cover Nova Scotia from Cumberland County … right down through the Valley, as far south as Shelburne County and right on through to Cape Breton Island," Dexter told supporters, according to CBC.

Outgoing premier Rodney MacDonald ceded his Progressive Conservative Party's 10-year reign, electing only 10 MLAs -- one less than the Liberals who will form the Official Opposition.

“Nova Scotians have decided to go in a different direction,” MacDonald told his supporters. “They have said it is time for a change.”

But most media and a number of progressive commentators agree that Nova Scotians should not expect a large wave of change in the Atlantic province.

A Globe and Mail headline describing the NDP win called Dexter a “conservative progressive,” – a title he once jokingly gave himself.

A Canadian Press story called Dexter a “moderate leader who promised to balance the books,” and included these observations about the victory:

A firmly moderate, centrist platform also helped…

The NDP's platform is also notable for what it does not contain: taxes.

As well, the party has turned its back on some left-leaning policies, including a previous bid to bring public auto insurance to the province.

Several Nova Scotian progressives seemed to try to dispel hopes of significant change in the dying days of the campaign.

Christine Saulnier, director of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives- Nova Scotia wrote on her blog:

Everyone knows about the historical social democratic roots of the NDP and its championing of workers' rights, but there has been very little evidence that this iteration of the NDP plans to turn any of these concerns into policy once in office…

During this election, the NDP party's strategy has been to the curb expectations of progressives in the province.

Halifax-based freelancer Hilary Beaumont wrote in a review of the three main parties' policies for a post:

Since it was called on May 4, the Nova Scotia election has forced voters to question their political tastes.

The Conservatives began the trend with an odd promise to spend liberally, while the Liberals and New Democrats followed with conservative spending strategies. Meanwhile the NDP has strayed from their socialist and environmental-leaning roots to a more right-winged approach.

The Chronicle-Herald's Ralph Surette acknowledged the frustration many progessives have with the NDP platform in his weekend column, but added his own take on the possibilities of a New Democrat win:

What the NDP can do, if it works out right, is unlock the public energies that have been screaming to be heard over our political muddles for 30 years on any number of issues, de-couple our political processes from whatever remains of the old patronage system, and raise public confidence in government. The sense of frustration released — and the expectations — will be huge on Wednesday if it happens.

Garrett Zehr reports for The Tyee.

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