You can parse the results of the byelection in Cartwright-L’Anse au Clair any number of ways. You can point out, for example, that the district has been strongly Liberal for years, even in Tory election landslides.
You can argue that the seat has never been Tory, not even once, since Confederation.
You can point out that this has been a year of tough financial medicine in the provincial budget, leading to dissatisfaction with the governing Tories.
You can even say, as the provincial NDP did, that their party had a 31 per cent increase in popular support.
In the end, though, it all comes down to simple numbers: in the preliminary results, Liberal Lisa Dempster, 1,141 votes, NDP candidate Jason Spingle, 703 votes, and trailing the others considerably, Progressive Conservative Dennis Normore with just 287. That means opposition parties logged 86 per cent of the votes, while the Tories took in less than 14 per cent.
It’s a pretty clear message, any way you look at it.
Premier Kathy Dunderdale, travelling in China, had her own take. “Some difficult decisions were made, and while these decisions were the best ones for the future of the province, we recognize that until people can see the full positive effect of these efforts, people will express their discontent. … Making the right decisions are not often the popular ones. However, having the courage of your convictions and sticking with those decisions for the betterment of your people is the sign of a government with a vision.”
That is definitely a case of trying to put the best face on the situation.
A couple of things the Tories might be thinking about? First, the large turnout; 70 per cent of the district’s eligible voters showed up at the polls to cast their votes, suggesting that voters were certainly engaged in sending a message.
Second, the huge growth in the NDP vote in a traditionally Liberal district. If the NDP starts having a strong presence in rural parts of the province, whose support are they more likely to erode?
What may be more interesting lies ahead.
Governments traditionally have a harder time in byelections. The campaigns happen outside the broader electoral structure, campaigns are often not on the government’s own timetable and they’re often a chance for the electorate to send a clear message to a government without actually cleaning house.
But the Dunderdale government has several members who are considering their futures; they’ve been in government for a long time, and summer is often a time when MHAs ponder whether they want to keep going in an often-
difficult job. Longtime MHAs have reached their maximum pensionable time, and the prospects of another year in the House — let alone fighting an election — may seem onerous indeed.
More interesting byelections, including ones in traditionally Tory districts, may be yet to come.
For any government, a byelection where you can only garner 13 per cent of the popular vote has to engender some internal concern — no matter what excuses you can find to trot out publicly.