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Craig takes Sackville-Cobequid stronghold from NDP

Tory Steve Craig greets his supporters at the Kinsmen Community Centre in Lower Sackville after winning a close victory in the Sackville-Cobequid byelection Tuesday night. Nova Scotia PC Party.
Tory Steve Craig greets his supporters at the Kinsmen Community Centre in Lower Sackville after winning a close victory in the Sackville-Cobequid byelection Tuesday night. - Nova Scotia PC Party. / Contributed

The race was neck-and-neck before Tory candidate Steve Craig surged ahead for good.

NDP candidate Lara Fawthrop had held a 100-vote lead over Craig until the last of 40 polls were counted in the Sackville-Cobequid riding byelection late Tuesday night. But the last four polls, which nearly doubled the vote count, put Craig in front.

Craig, who steps away from his job as a Halifax regional councillor, ended the night with 2,655 votes to Fawthrop's 2,472.

Trailing far behind were Liberal candidate Michel Hindlet with 658 votes and the Green Party’s Anthony Edmonds with 488 votes. Atlantica Party candidate David Boyd had polled just 43.

Craig was ecstatic.

"Voters were very clear during this campaign." he said late Tuesday.

"They want a representative who will work for improved care at the Cobequid Health Centre and for a lower cost of living. I'm grateful for their support and I am committed to making their priorities my priorities."

Tory Leader Tim Houston said he is glad to have the help.

"Steve is a person with a proven track record of rolling up his sleeves and getting things done."

The riding has been an NDP stronghold since John Holm took it in 1984. He held it for nearly two decades before handing off to fellow New Democrat Dave Wilson, who kept it for a decade and a half after that.

Lori Turnbull, a Dalhousie University political science professor, said the loss is a big blow to the party.

"They’ve held that seat for a long time so it’s not seen so much as a loss for the government as it is for the NDP," said Turnbull. "If the NDP are not able to hold on to safe seats what are they able to hold on to? 

"But at the same time, is a switch from NDP to Conservative an indication that there’s a big shift in values in the riding? I would say no. 

"It’s not like the riding that used to be left-wing has now gone right-wing. People were looking for somewhere to put their vote and the Conservative candidate had a lot of name recognition and a proven record as a municipal councillor. That would have carried a lot of weight." 

Turnbull said the Liberals were never really in the race.

Tuesday's vote gave Lower Sackville residents an opportunity to weigh in on the ruling Liberals.

“Stephen McNeil and the Liberal government are in their second mandate and there has been a lot of coverage of the state of the health-care system and a lot of negative coverage of the state of the health-care system and this was an opportunity for voters in at least one constituency to make a comment about that,” said Turnbull.

Supporters of NDP candidate Lara Fawthrop watch a board tallying the votes as their party held a narrow lead with just four polls left to count in the Sackville-Cobequid byelection Tuesday, June 18, 2019. - Tim Krochak
Supporters of NDP candidate Lara Fawthrop watch a board tallying the votes as their party held a narrow lead with just four polls left to count in the Sackville-Cobequid byelection Tuesday, June 18, 2019. - Tim Krochak

Nursing student Emilee Dubay had no problem saying that she voted for Fawthrop. The Cape Breton University student said the province is not making health care enough of a priority and that she is disappointed that little has been done to fill the void created by the planned closures of New Waterford and North Sydney hospitals last year. The few remaining hospitals cannot deal with the demand and their emergency departments are closed regularly, she said. Only Cape Breton Regional Hospital in Sydney remains consistently open.

“I have a lot of family members who are nurses and I see the struggle of being down so many positions that so many people are being overworked and it’s really wearing them out,” said Dubay. “Emergency rooms are closing and so many people, especially elderly people, are having to go to Sydney for care. It’s not right.”

Fawthrop and Craig had been the most visible candidates throughout the campaign. The NDP candidate consistently hammered the government over its handling of the health-care system and over the abrupt closure of a walk-in clinic in April. The clinic served 19,000 people last year.

The party also took aim at Craig during the campaign, accusing the councillor of violating the Elections Act by inappropriately using municipal tax dollars, including a $20,000 donation to a community group, to gain an unfair advantage in the race. A subsequent Elections Nova Scotia investigation cleared Craig of any wrongdoing.

John Forrest said he had voted Liberal in the last election but this time he had changed parties. But he stopped short of saying who voted for or being pointed in criticism of the governing Liberals.

“I would like to see more money and effort go into the health-care system and education," said Forrest. "Those are basics and I don’t think we’re investing enough in those areas."

Forrest did say that Craig has been doing a solid job in his role as councillor.

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