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People protest as Nova Scotia Liberal Leader Iain Rankin speaks during a campaign event in Halifax, on Aug. 8.Brett Bundale/The Canadian Press

As Nova Scotia’s election campaign winds through its final week, political observers say there could be a number of surprises at the polls next Tuesday.

While he isn’t predicting any outcomes, Tom Urbaniak, a political scientist at Cape Breton University, says the situation is “quite fluid” for the three main political parties and their leaders – Iain Rankin of the Liberals, Tim Houston of the Progressive Conservatives and Gary Burrill of the NDP.

With 13 incumbent candidates not running in this election – including 11 Liberals – Urbaniak says that makes the outcomes less certain in a number of the province’s 55 ridings.

“Where an incumbent is not re-offering, that’s where the races become interesting,” Urbaniak said. “I think there will be a few surprises on election night.”

Lori Turnbull, a political scientist at Dalhousie University, says there is more potential for volatility among the electorate compared to the last election because of the addition of four ridings. Preston, east of Halifax, was restored to its position as a protected riding in 2019 along with three other largely Acadian ridings after the four districts were eliminated in 2012.

“It does open things up and then it becomes a bit more of a question of what’s going on in a riding and what’s going on in the election overall,” Turnbull said.

Urbaniak said he wonders whether the Liberals are starting to show some signs of worry. He pointed to an unexpected policy announcement on Monday about COVID-19 vaccination passports by Rankin, which smacked of “some improvisation.”

Urbaniak noted that vaccine passports were not part of the Liberal platform and that Rankin, like the other party leaders, passed on an opportunity to talk about policy related to the novel coronavirus during a televised round table debate last Thursday.

“It strikes me that there is some worry within the Liberal ranks, at least to some degree,” he said. “They felt the need to show Iain Rankin as the premier being decisive.”

In another unusual move, Liberal Finance Minister Labi Kousoulis called reporters to his campaign headquarters on Tuesday, where he criticized the fiscal plans of the Progressive Conservatives and NDP.

In particular, he zeroed in on a Tory promise to return 50 per cent of the corporate taxes paid by companies that raise workers’ salaries.

“What it will do is take the burden off the largest corporations from ever having to pay another pay increase again,” Kousoulis said. “All future pay increases will be funded by Nova Scotia citizens.”

Kousoulis told reporters the decision to hold a media session at his office was made in conjunction with party strategists.

Urbaniak said that’s a change from the start of the campaign, when the Liberals were happy to keep a lower profile and “appear managerial.”

“At this late stage, they seem to have changed that strategy and they are more directly confronting their opponents and trying to draw a contrast,” he said.

Still, Turnbull thinks voter turnout will ultimately tell the tale for the parties. She said turnout could dip below 50 per cent, adding that people who choose to vote could wait until the last minute to make up their minds.

“There’s not that polarizing person for everybody to get either really excited about and rally around or get really scared of and rally against,” she said.

Turnbull said the outcome will depend on how well party leaders propagate their messages and how organized and efficient party machines are in competitive ridings.

Meanwhile, Elections Nova Scotia said a total of 75,367 early votes had been cast as of Monday – more than twice the number at the same point during the 2017 election, when 32,935 early votes had been cast.

In the 2017 election, 756,113 people registered to vote, and 403,366 people, representing 53.4 per cent of the electorate, cast a ballot.

At dissolution, the Liberals held 24 of 51 seats, followed by the Progressive Conservatives with 17 and the NDP with five. There were three Independents and two seats were vacant.

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