The political makeup of Newfoundland and Labrador after the 2011 Provincial Election. Blue districts are Progressive Conservative, red districts are Liberal and yellow districts are New Democratic Party. — Photos courtesy of ESRI Canada
The Liberals held on to Opposition as predicted and the NDP scored second-highest in popular vote, pollster Don Mills noted Wednesday.
“That’s exactly what happened,” the Corporate Research Associates president and CEO said, referring to projections in a poll done exclusively for The Telegram which predicted a solid Progressive Conservative win and a tight race for second place between the NDP and Liberals.
The PCs finished with 37 seats.The NDP finished with five seats and the Liberals got six seats, retaining official Opposition. The split in 2007 was 43 PC, four Liberal and one NDP.
But the unofficial count has the NDP with 24.6 per cent of the total vote, ahead of the Liberals with 19.1 per cent. The Progressive Conservatives finished with 56.1 per cent of the vote. Turnout was 57.7 per cent of the eligible votes cast.
Memorial University political scientist Alex Marland said it may sound corny, but the real winner Tuesday night was democracy, as two parties will be holding the government to account.
“The system was begging for a level of scrutiny,” Marland told The Telegram Wednesday.
Marland also said Tory Premier Kathy Dunderdale now has her own mandate, which means she doesn’t have quite the shadow from popular ex-premier Danny Williams. In fact Marland said she had a impressive showing, compared to Williams’ first time out.
In 2007, then Tory leader Williams became premier elect with 34 seats to the Liberals’ 12 and the NDP’s two.
Marland said the biggest surprise Tuesday was the Liberal result and he said it shows the Liberal brand is still resilient in the province, but added it will be hard for Kevin Aylward to overcome as a leader with no seat in the House. Marland said he wasn’t sure going into the election that the NDP would gain official Opposition, and wondered how much of the success can be attributed to the phenomena of late NDP leader Jack Layton’s popularity.
Federal St. John’s East NDP MP Jack Harris, a former longtime provincial leader, said he was proud of his party Tuesday night. The party took three seats from PC incumbents — including cabinet minister Shawn Skinner — in St. John’s, re-elected Leader Lorraine Michael and gained Chris Mitchelmore in The Straits-White Bay North over the Liberals.
“It was the coming of age of the NDP in the province with a substantial leap forward,” he said, adding the party’s newfound success is consistent with the rise of the party federally, where it is now the official Opposition.
Harris, who once sat solo in the House of Assembly, and also now has a fellow NDPer from the province federally — Ryan Cleary in St. John’s South-Mount Pearl after Layton brought the party to new heights nationally.
“You dream about these things in the 1990s. It was not a great time for the NDP provincially or federally. In 1993, we sunk below party status in the House of Commons,” Harris said.
Harris said he doesn’t buy Dunderdale’s excuse it isn’t practical to open the legislature for a fall sitting because legislation can’t be readied, noting Dunderdale is not taking over from a different government — she’s been premier for almost a year.
And he said the federal House of Commons was back in session a month after the election.
He said there are new faces anxious to bring a new voice to the House of Assembly.
And Harris noted once it does sit, the House will be much more interesting.
“Democracy is not healthy with a big imbalance. It makes the government lazy and gives government backbenchers nothing to do,” Harris said.
The Liberals must start rebuilding from the district level up, says a former longtime Liberal.
Beaton Tulk, who was interim premier after Brian Tobin stepped down in 2000, said he helped recruit candidates for Aylward.
Organization from the grassroots is key to rebuilding the party, Tulk said Wednesday.
But given the circumstances, Tulk said Aylward did as well as he could, having taken over the party in August when Yvonne Jones stepped down due to health concerns.
Tulk said there is a lot of work to do, but Tuesday night’s showing augers well for the future.
“Contrary to popular belief, the Liberals are alive and well,” Tulk said.
Former Bellevue Liberal MHA Percy Barrett acknowledged Dunderdale and said it’s nice to see a woman elected premier, regardless of what party she is from. “Too bad there were not more women elected to the House of Assembly,” said Barrett, who declined to seek re-election in 2007. (He was named in the MHA overspending reports by former auditor general John Noseworthy but not charged and repaid his excess cash.)
Barrett fund-raised for failed candidate Pamela Pardy-Ghent in his former riding, but acknowledged the popularity of returning Tory incumbent Calvin Peach and said a lot of his longtime key supporters backed Peach.
As for the Opposition party split, Barrett said it should be interesting times in the House of Assembly.
“Politics have changed,” he said, referring to the strength of all three parties. “There may come a time in politics — although I may not be around to see it — where we may have a minority government. Our forefathers never thought that would happen.”