Obviously last night's Nova Scotia election results represent a huge disappointment for the NDP. But they also offer some reason to discuss the brand being developed at both the provincial and federal levels.
The working assumption for both the federal party and most of the provincial parties close to forming government has been that the only way to win over voters is to appear steady, staid and safe rather than pushing strongly for many policy priorities. And that theory seemed especially likely to work for Darrell Dexter given Nova Scotia's precedent of offering every previous government at least a second term.
But now that Dexter alone has been toppled - in contrast to far more controversial provincial counterparts elsewhere over the past couple of years - it's worth asking whether more activist government might prove valuable on two fronts.
First, for electoral purposes there has to be some value to keeping a party base engaged and a set of values in the public eye. And while "base vs swing" is one of the perpetual debates for political strategists of all stripes, it's hard to see the Nova Scotia experience as evidence that balancing budgets immediately and promising social progress later is a winning combination.
And second, there's the question of what a government will leave behind after its stay in office is done.
It may be that the forces which put Stephen McNeil in power would have won out in any event. But if that's so, then it's worth comparing Dexter's stay in office to the much-discussed single B.C. term of Dave Barrett.
Barrett of course was criticized for galvanizing his opposition by passing too much legislation too soon - a stark contrast to Dexter's focus on balancing the budget and laying the groundwork for larger plans to be implemented in some future term.
But Barrett's signature achievements continue to play significant roles in the lives of B.C. citizens four decades later - while much of what Dexter accomplished in his single term figures to be gutted (or at best rebranded) in the next four years. And if a premier is going to have only one term in which to build a legacy, he or she surely figures to want to do something worth celebrating and remembering in that time.
All of which is to say that NDP leaders across the country would do well to remind themselves that what matters most is how a government's actions influence the lives of citizens - not how little a government does to draw attention to itself. And if there's real doubt as to how a worthy policy choice will play out politically, it's better to err on the side of positive action.