Nova Scotia party leaders focus on key issues, battlegrounds as vote draws near

ELMSDALE, N.S. – He hasn’t won the job yet, but Liberal Leader Stephen McNeil looked ahead Sunday to what he would do in the first days as Nova Scotia’s premier as his main rivals mounted attacks aimed at thwarting his party’s momentum in the final hours of the province’s election campaign.

McNeil identified several priorities at a campaign stop in Elmsdale on the outskirts of Halifax, promising early in a Liberal mandate to call an inquiry into allegations of abuse at an orphanage and lay the groundwork to increase competition on the province’s energy grid.

Those are two areas that set him apart from the governing New Democrats, led by Darrell Dexter, who refused to launch a full inquiry into the Nova Scotia Home for Colored Children and has based his gambit for a second term on renewable energy by bringing power to the province from the Muskrat Falls hydroelectric project in Labrador.

“A new Liberal government will provide leadership and governance that Nova Scotians deserve and they can trust,” McNeil told a group of placard-waving supporters and campaign workers.

“I want to ensure that their challenges and needs are heard by government and that government reacts with solutions to improve their lives and make their businesses more competitive.”

McNeil continued a blitz across the province aimed at visiting all but a handful of the province’s 51 ridings before Tuesday’s election, a whirlwind trip he said was meant to galvanize party supporters.

Dexter campaigned Sunday in rural Nova Scotia, where he raised the spectre of Liberal cuts that he said would jeopardize programs that are vital to the province’s smaller communities.

“The very programs that support this kind of progress, and support the kind of work we’ve been doing in communities, is very much at risk,” Dexter said amid the backdrop of a provincially assisted rowing centre in Antigonish County.

“We’re going into small, rural communities, we’re touching as many people as possible. It’s really about getting out and talking to people … in order to get the vote out.”

He later visited the Cape Breton town of Port Hawkesbury, where he launched his bid for re-election four weeks ago. It is also where his government gave a 10-year, $124.5 million aid package to help resume operations at a paper mill that was on the verge of financial collapse.

At a park in downtown Halifax, Progressive Conservative Leader Jamie Baillie said the Liberals have shown that they are too similar to the NDP and don’t have a plan to balance the budget nor reduce power rates.

“I started out this campaign by saying to Nova Scotians that this is going to be an election about a choice between change — changing this way the province is run, changing our economy — or more of the same,” Baillie said with several Halifax-area candidates at his side.

“Now almost 30 days later, it’s become clear that the question is still, do Nova Scotians want change?” he asked. “But, oddly, it’s now Mr. McNeil and the Liberals who are defending the way things are and will keep things the same.”

The Liberals and Tories have largely narrowed their messages to economic issues in the final days of the campaign while the NDP have said health care has emerged as the fundamental issue on the minds of voters.

The final full day of the campaign for the three leaders on Monday will see McNeil hit key ridings in the Halifax area where they hope to cut into the NDP’s traditional base of support, while Baillie was scheduled to begin his day in Halifax before heading to Truro and Antigonish, areas of the province that the Tories would like to return to the fold.

Dexter is campaigning in key districts along the south shore of the province, where the New Democrats made breakthroughs in 2009 that helped lead to its historic victory as the first NDP government in Atlantic Canada, before finishing his campaign in Halifax-area ridings where the party has established strong foundations.

The NDP held a large majority in the legislature when the election was called with 31 seats, followed by the Liberals with 12 and the Tories with seven.

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