Unlike in 2008, the Conservative Party of Canada seems to be having little trouble attracting star candidates to run in this province on May 2.
During the last federal election, the Anything But Conservative (ABC) campaign — started by former premier Danny Williams — helped shut out the Conservatives in this province.
But less than a week into this campaign, five of the seven ridings in Newfoundland and Labrador have a Conservative candidate in place, including two former provincial cabinet ministers, a former MP and a past Labrador Innu leader.
The Telegram asked Memorial University political science professor Alex Marland to discuss the Conservatives’ chances this time around.
The conversation focused on four ridings — Avalon, Labrador, Random-Burin-St. George’s and St. John’s South-Mount Pearl which are thought to be the most contentious battlegrounds.
Marland said the results of the ABC campaign were impressive and there may be quite a bit of anti-Conservative sentiment still lingering in the province.
“I’ve always said I would have been way more impressed if Danny Williams could have delivered seven Tory seats federally. And the reason I say that is because what he did (with ABC) was he really fed into an existing suspicion about the (Stephen) Harper Conservatives,” said Marland.
“So it’s not like everybody just necessarily went en masse with what Danny Williams was saying so much as Danny Williams was simply reaffirming what a lot of people already felt.”
He said people in the province seem to be softening towards Harper this time around, “but there’s a heck of a lot of people in Newfoundland and Labrador who still are unlikely to support the Harper Conservatives.”
But Marland suggested the big-name candidates carrying the governing party’s banner this time around shows the Conservatives’ chances of winning at least one seat in this province are better.
“Immediately it tells you that there’s a completely different situation than the last campaign,” he said.
“The one thing everybody seemed to be focused on (was) the results of the last campaign, that there were no Conservatives elected. But to me, what I looked at, is how the Conservatives — right from the beginning — just had the wind absolutely knocked out of them because they couldn’t even attract (a full slate of local) candidates the last time, and (two of three) incumbents didn’t run again.”
Avalon was the only riding that had a Conservative incumbent run in 2008, and Fabian Manning is back for more this time.
Two months after the last election, Harper appointed Manning to the Senate. But Manning announced Monday he’s trading his Senate seat for a rematch with Liberal Scott Andrews, who beat him by more than 3,000 votes three years ago.
NDP candidate Matt Fuchs will join them on the ballot.
Marland said it was both interesting and unusual for Manning to quit the Senate to run again.
“It definitely tells you the man is a politician,” he said. “He wants to be in the elected game.”
Historically, Marland said, Senate seats are given to people after they’ve bowed out of elected life. However, another current senator, Larry Smith of Quebec, will also run in this election and it’s not the first time that’s happened.
In 2008, former Quebec senator Michael Fortier left the upper house for an election bid and lost.
Manning suggested this week the ABC campaign was largely to blame for his defeat.
There will also be a rematch in St. John’s South-Mount Pearl where Liberal incumbent Siobhan Coady faces the NDP’s Ryan Cleary, who came within 1,000 votes of her in 2008.
But this time around, former provincial finance minister Loyola Sullivan will enter the mix for the Tories in what many feel will be the race to watch in this province.
Sullivan resigned as Canada’s fisheries ambassador Tuesday to enter the race.
“Incumbents definitely have an advantage,” said Marland, as they have won before, they usually have a team in place and they have a sustained presence in the news media before a campaign begins.
But Marland thinks the lack of an ABC campaign this time around will likely hurt Cleary more than anyone.
“My impression is a lot of Conservatives who couldn’t bring themselves to vote Liberal voted NDP, and this time those NDP votes ... might go Conservative,” he said.
He said many other Conservative loyalists simply stayed home on election day in 2008.
In Labrador, Liberal incumbent Todd Russell, the former president of the Labrador Metis Nation, will face Conservative Peter Penashue, both a former president and deputy grand chief of the Labrador Innu Nation.
The riding has voted Liberal since Confederation, except for in 1968.
Russell won the seat with 70 per cent of the vote last time around.
Random-Burin-St. George’s has also historically been a Liberal stronghold, with the Progressive Conservatives only winning two elections there since 1949. And Bill Matthews, one of the two Tories to claim the seat, eventually crossed the floor to join the Liberals and was later re-elected as a Grit.
Incumbent Liberal Judy Foote will have a familiar face running against her. Foote and her Conservative opponent, John Ottenheimer, are both former provincial cabinet ministers — in different governments — who were first elected as MHAs in 1996 and left provincial politics just before the 2007 election. Stella Magalios will carry the NDP banner this time around.
Marland said while no candidate is ever really safe in an election, the historical voting pattern can suggest how the election will play out in a riding.
“I don’t really get a sense of a mass ground swell of voter dissatisfaction that would suggest that people would be willing to turf out (either) incumbent,” he said.
“There has to be a reason for people to get angry to ... vote against a candidate.”