Cape Breton Labour Party

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Cape Breton Labour Party
LeaderPaul MacEwan (only leader)
IdeologySocial democracy

The Cape Breton Labour Party was a social democratic provincial political party in Nova Scotia, Canada, which drew most of its support from Cape Breton, the northern part of the Province of Nova Scotia.


The party was founded by Paul MacEwan, who had been an NDP member of the Nova Scotia House of Assembly for ten years, 1970 to 1980. MacEwan was kicked out of the NDP in 1980, after allegedly calling party executive Dennis Theman a Trotskyite.[1] MacEwan ran as an independent,[2] in the 1981 election and was re-elected by a strong margin.[3] He took this as a mandate to set up a rival party.

The Cape Breton Labour Party was founded at a convention held in Glace Bay in the fall of 1982.[4] MacEwan was elected its provincial leader. While at first the intent was to run candidates only on Cape Breton Island, the provisions of the Nova Scotia Elections Act forced the party to run candidates also in several mainland ridings to obtain recognition as a registered political party. The party's name was also changed to the Labour Party of Cape Breton and Nova Scotia at this time. In the end, a total of fourteen Labour candidates were run, eleven on Cape Breton and three on the mainland.[5]

In the 1984 election, the 14 Labour candidates obtained a total of 8,322 votes. MacEwan was re-elected, with 3,832 votes. He thus became the first, and so far the only, candidate sponsored by a fourth political party to gain a seat in the Nova Scotia Legislature. Other Labour candidates were not elected, but managed to retain their deposits in the constituencies of Cape Breton East and Cape Breton Centre, while the NDP vote in those areas plunged to an all-time low in the same seats the party had held under Akerman.

After the 1984 election, MacEwan felt that the Labour Party could not continue, as insufficient funds had been raised to meet its minimum financial requirements. He ran in the next provincial election, held in 1988, as an independent[6] and joined the Liberal Party in 1990.


The main issues in contention between the Labour Party and the NDP centered on how the party was to be run and in what direction. MacEwan maintained that freedom of speech was important in politics and that elected representatives should be free to represent their constituents as they best determined. The Halifax NDP, led by Alexa McDonough throughout this period, emphasized established party policy and expected MLAs to subscribe to this first before formulating their opinions on issues.

Much of the tussle was over geography and whether Cape Breton, or downtown Halifax, should be in control of operations. The Halifax NDP claimed that the Labour Party was "separatist" but never identified how. There is no mention found advocating any constitutional change for Cape Breton Island in the advertising run by the Labour Party in the 1984 election. The party issued a multi-point election platform, but its contents were confined to such traditional Cape Breton issues as "proper" levels of government support for the coal and steel industries, a higher minimum wage, reform of workers compensation, and improvements to highways.

The dispute was accentuated by bad personal relations between MacEwan and the new NDP provincial leader, Alexa McDonough, each viewing the other as unworthy. MacEwan considered that McDonough had encouraged his expulsion from the NDP for political advantage and had gained the NDP leadership by intrigue. Each was inclined to criticize the other publicly, McDonough depicting MacEwan as an unrepentant enemy of all the NDP stood for, while MacEwan described McDonough and her father, industrialist Lloyd Shaw, as seeking to use their wealth to try to prevent democracy in Nova Scotia politics.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "NDP chiefs vote in unison to kick out Cape Bretoner". The Globe and Mail. June 16, 1980.
  2. ^ "NDP nomination meeting is disrupted by faction". The Globe and Mail. September 21, 1981.
  3. ^ "PCs win crushing victory in N.S.". The Globe and Mail. October 7, 1981.
  4. ^ "New political party to test wings in N.S.". The Globe and Mail. January 18, 1983.
  5. ^ "Self-appointed Cape Breton king riles opponents of the populist cause". The Globe and Mail. October 20, 1984.
  6. ^ "The NDP's battle for Cape Breton". The Globe and Mail. August 6, 1988.