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NDP majority: What to do now? 

For more than 30 years, Nova Scotia New Democrats could sit and snipe smugly from the sidelines. No more. They have a true majority government, with all the possibilities that that entails.

The dream is dead. Long live the dream.

For more than 30 years, Nova Scotia New Democrats have enjoyed the ultimately unsatisfying luxury of pointing to smug, don't-blame-me-I-voted-NDP stickers tattooed on their foreheads while the province lurched from one profligate Tory farce to the next corrupt Liberal tragedy and then back again. And again. And again.

No more. What had once been just a passion, an unattainable dream, a lost cause and a moral-victory movement is now the party in power---a true majority government, in fact, with all the possibilities and perils that that entails.

At one level, of course, Darrell Dexter's new NDP administration won't have to do much more than simply be modestly competent and mostly honest to shine up far better than the last sorry lot.

But is that really all we voted for?

What did we, in reality, actually vote for? Well, for change, of course. But, if we are to be honest with ourselves, it was really less in favour of some specific change and much more generally against Rodney MacDonald. But it was more than just that. This time, finally, we also cast our ballots against the generations of say-one-thing-do-another, party-first, Tweedledum/Tweedledee, Liberal/Conservative administrations that Rodney MacDonald's current Tory administration had simply come to personify.

That's why Stephen McNeil's Liberals---despite a very respectable campaign that, in another election season, might have made his party seem like the logical alternative to a tired government in power---failed to more than marginally improve their numbers in the legislature.

Darrell Dexter---familiar, hard-working, energetic, smart in a down-home, common-sense, unthreatening way but also, and importantly, unsullied if untested in the ways of government---and his New Democratic Party came to represent real change, but not radical change.

The question for us now though is what does the election of an NDP government really mean for the future of our province?

During the campaign, Dexter created a Houdini-like room-with-no-exit for himself, promising that his party would not only undertake a number of significant, and costly, initiatives---from keeping all rural hospital emergency rooms open to eliminating the HST on electricity---but also balance next year's budget. And do it despite the ongoing impact of the global economic crisis, and contrary to the conventional wisdom that we must spend our way out of this recession, and even regardless of what an audit might say about the true state of the province's finances.

Most observers doubt Dexter can deliver all he's promised---at least not without increasing taxes or reducing services. Or both. Neither of which would be palatable. Or in keeping with the party's promises to the almost one of every two of us who voted NDP Tuesday.

Which means?...

All governments must learn to compromise. And adapt. Over the years, New Democrats have held firmly, almost obstinately, to the comforting assumption that, if given the opportunity, they would do government differently. They would be more open and accountable; they would not say one thing and then turn around and do another. They would... they would.

Well, now they have that chance they sought.

They are, it is true, inheriting a mess that was not of their own making. And they will be attempting to manage an economy that is largely beyond this province's power to manage during times that seem perilously beyond any government's power to control, or even influence.

But this is exactly what they asked for. And now they have it. And so do we.

My boyhood best friend---a lifelong Liberal whose party roots drill down through the generations---emailed me Monday, enclosing a photo of his front lawn. There, plunked in the middle, was a first-ever NDP sign. It was a leap of faith, he admitted. "Here's hoping for a leader who can lead and inspire and a government that can govern and manage," he wrote. "Is that too much to wish for?"

We shall see.

What are your hopes for the NDPers? Email

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