Monday, August 15, 2011

Solid as a Rock? Probably

On October 11, Newfoundland and Labrador goes to the polls and as of now the election is the ruling Progressive Conservatives' to lose. The party is vying for its third win in a row, following the two elections successfully fought by Danny Williams. Importantly, Premier Kathy Dunderdale will hit the hustings knowing that this is an electorate which tends to give parties multiple mandates.

Premier Dunderdale's cause has been aided by the disarray among her traditional rivals, the Liberals (sound familiar?). Liberal Leader Yvonne Jones surprised many when she resigned as leader for health reasons, essentially on the eve of the election. A new leader, Kevin Aylward, has just been selected, and will now embark on a crash course on the issues in preparation for the campaign.

In contrast, the NDP offer up a relative sense of stability having been led by Lorraine Michael since 2006. However, this stability cannot make up for the fact that this has always been a 2-party province. The NDP have never won more than 2 seats in a provincial election.

So does this make it a slam dunk for the Progressive Conservatives? Probably. And if so, is there anything worth watching? Definitely.

1. Ms. Dunderdale is following the immensely popular Danny Williams. While she and the party continue to benefit from the strong levels of satisfaction and support he left them, there has been slippage. While this won't necessarily affect the outcome of the election, how she fares will become a big part of the party narrative over the next four years.

It is also worth noting that unlike Mr. Williams, she publicly supported the federal Conservatives in the last election and in fact a number of former members of the Williams government ran under Mr. Harper's banner. They did not fare well. How her support for the Harper Conservatives plays out in the provincial election will be interesting to see.

2. Could this be the election which sees the NDP make real gains? Stability at the top, the federal breakthrough still fresh in the mind (current challenges notwithstanding) and a growing concern about social issues in the face of an aging population could help the NDP make inroads. An NDP campaign which focuses on issues like health, home care, and the elderly won't give them victory, but it could just push them to second place.

3. Building on the point above, the Liberals are in disarray. A new leader has been elected and will have little time to prepare. Like their federal cousins, there has likely been a sense that if they are patient their time will come. It always does, right?

Perhaps before, but maybe not anymore. As the federal Liberals found out, Canadians are increasingly prepared to look beyond the two-party system. The Liberals may need to work harder for second spot than they expected.

4. Issues? Beyond areas of social policy it will be interesting to see how the Lower Churchill narrative plays out over the course of the campaign. The development of the Churchill Falls has always been a key element in Newfoundland and Labrador politics - it is a truly sensitive nerve. As debate in New Brunswick on the NB Power-Hydro Quebec proposals recently showed, the politics of power development can be tricky waters for a politician to navigate.


This election is Premier Dunderdale's to lose and to be honest, losing it would take some doing. However, below the headline of "who wins" are some interesting issues worth following. I will be focusing on what the election could mean for the Liberal and NDP brands in the province, and what issues resonate most with voters.

But more than anything, what I am interested in seeing over the course of the fall elections is to what degree we see commonality in the issues and views expressed. Why?

With a majority government in Ottawa, the provinces once again start to play a larger role. Depending on the results of elections they can become supporters of the federal government, or they can become the de facto "official opposition."



  1. I couldn't agree more! It will be shocking if Dunderdale doesn't win. I'm interested to see how much support she loses. If there's one thing I know about my fellow Newfies it is that they are a stubborn lot. Dunderdale's appearance at Harper's rally in NL in April was not well received around the province.

    I think, with the need for social programs growing, especially in rural areas where populations are ageing and shrinking, the NDP will see some gains. They also have the momentum of their federal counterparts on their side. They can now be seen as becoming a credible alternative perhaps.

    I'm very interested to see how the Lower Churchill development plays out. This is a project that will have potential implications for all of Atlantic Canada. NB's energy situation, for example, is not healthy. The new hydro electric plant could see greater cooperation between Atlantic Canadian provinces with regards to energy.

    Your provincial posts will be an interesting series! Look forward to learning more. :-)


  2. Great post, you hit on what I'll be looking for!

    some thoughts on the NDP...

    This election will see them spend more money than any other previous campaign.
    They have a field of credible candidates, unlike past elections when most candidates did zero campaigning (not sure if any of them went to vegas though).
    They have more campaign workers and volunteers than ever before. This party usually has 2 or 3 legit campaigns in an election. With around 20 candidates nominated thus far they have at least 15 competitive campaigns.
    The entire St. John's metro area is now represented by two very popular NDP MPs who are publicly endorsing provincial candidates. I think all the St. John's metro seats are in play.

    If there was ever a time for the NDP to make big gains in NL, it is now.

    it will be a very interesting election to watch, nothing like the last one.



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