Nova Scotia Politics, 1945-2020: From Macdonald to McNeil by Graham Steele

“How did we get here?” is a question people like to ask about the political state of the country, province, municipality, other country, etc. While some of the current state can be attributed to recent decision (such as elections), other have roots much further back. It is this, history informing the present, a straight line winding through the decades, that Graham Steele seeks to explore. Starting with Angus L. Macdonald in the post-war period to the very recent present, with Stephen McNeil’s terms and resignation, Steele provides a comprehensive overview of Nova Scotia politics in the last 75 years. There are no bombshells in this history, though Steele doesn’t falter when it comes to tackling the more salacious scandals of Nova Scotia politics in the last 75 years (corruption, sexual misconduct). For someone looking to understand why Nova Scotian politics are currently where they are, Nova Scotia Politics, 1945-2020: From Macdonald to McNeil is a wonderfully readable history of the province’s politics.

“Steele has taken the facts of the last 75 years of Nova Scotian politics and woven them into the best kind of history text: a story.”

Steele largely tells the story of Nova Scotian politics in chronological order, with chapters focusing on some of the larger, perennial problems in the province: jobs, corruption, roads, and the concentration of power in the premier’s office. Environmental racism, language, Halifax versus the rest of the province, and the total dominance of white men in Province House also play large parts in this story, and while the breadth of the time period Steele covers doesn’t allow for deep dives into these topics, he does give them appropriate attention and spotlight within the larger context of the political landscape.

Steele was an NDP MLA from 2001-2013, and is open about this in the text, as well as being reflective of the time and governments he served under. This, plus his experience in political commentary and work as a professor, lends itself to an informative, interesting story. Steele has taken the facts of the last 75 years of Nova Scotian politics and woven them into the best kind of history text: a story. That doesn’t mean this book is without political analysis – because it certainly is – but it avoids the trap of becoming bogged down in the little details of each political era, or being too academic for the casual reader. One of my personal pet peeves about the many political science texts I’ve thought were full of great, important information for people to access, is that they were very dense, and not particularly entertaining. Steele takes genuine interest and scholarship, as well as inside knowledge, and has created an excellent overview in under 300 pages.

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I recommend this for both the newbie to the political history of Nova Scotia, as well as the more seasoned veteran. It’s a great introduction to the political issues of the last 75 years in Nova Scotia, as well as a great analysis of how the different political eras led to the (near) present state in Nova Scotia.


Graham Steele was a member of the Nova Scotia legislature from 2001 to 2013 and finance minister from 2009 to 2012. He is the author of two books about politics: the best-selling What I Learned About Politics (2014) and The Effective Citizen (2017). He lives in Halifax.

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Pottersfield Press (April 5 2021)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 246 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 1989725457
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1989725450

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Alison Manley bounced around the Maritimes before landing in Miramichi, NB, where she works as a hospital librarian. She has an honours BA in political science and English from St. Francis Xavier University, and a Master of Library and Information Studies from Dalhousie University. When she's not reading biomedical research for her work, she likes reading poetry, contemporary and historical fiction, and personal essays. Noted for a love of bright colours (and lipstick), you can find her wandering the banks of the Miramichi River with a book and a paintbrush.

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