Newfoundland PCs double their seats in historic election result

These are not ordinary times, and the Newfoundland election was certainly anything but ordinary.

Micah Ryu Montreal QC

Newfoundland and Labrador’s Liberal Party hung onto a minority government despite losing 11 of the province’s 40 seats they garnered in the last election.

After polls closed and reporting was in, Premier Dwight Ball’s Liberals held on to 20 of the legislature’s 40 seats, the Tories and their rookie leader Ches Crosbie secured 15 while the New Democrats won three, one more seat than the pair of elected Independents.

Not a single pundit on the CBC’s live coverage of the election results were willing to call it a success for the Liberals other than the fact that things could have gone even worse for them.

It was an election that made Newfoundland history in a number of ways. Never before had a first-term government been demoted to minority status. There were also a record number of independent candidates, two of whom won their ridings and for the first time in living memory, four parties contested the province’s election.

And in the end, it was perhaps the closest and most divisive election campaign that The Rock has seen since joining the federation in 1949, and the first one resulting in a minority government since 1971.

Only the Liberals ran a full slate of candidates, which is actually not that much of a shock in beautiful but troubled Irving country, where the style of partisanship and patronage hearkens back to a time that Scott Brison and the federal Liberals could only hope to bring back federally.

The incumbent Liberals also enjoyed the advantage of running against a floundering NDP who seemed caught off-guard by the election. Despite not running candidates most ridings, and not a single incumbent, the New Democrats managed to increase their seat count from two to three.

On the other hand, the PCs faced a new populist party – the NL Alliance – started last year by a former PC Party President Graydon Pelley. From the vote tallies at a glance, they pulled enough support from the PCs to have made the difference in at least two ridings (Green Bay and Mount Scio) and perhaps another (St.George’s-Humber).

Canadian Press coverage

Despite how uncharacteristic it seemed the Canadian press were declaring it a “non-campaign” in the lead up to the vote, perhaps in anticipation of yet another poor provincial showing by Liberals.

They mentioned the Muskrat Falls hydroelectric project, conceived by the PCs and bungled by the Liberals, as  political baggage for the Tory leader. It is another government project that is late and over-budget causing skyrocketing electricity rates.

In another Canadian press article, the Liberal Premier is quoted criticizing the PC leader for refusing to admit that the whole Muskrat Falls project was a bad idea to begin with. The Tories were right to stand their ground; after all, bad ideas are distinguishable from bad execution.

They also pointed out that the Green Party was not running any candidates, seemingly unaware that there is not a provincial Green party in the province, something that frankly should really not be that difficult to figure out.

Many of their headlines were based on statements by local university professor Stephen Tomblin, who simultaneously suggests the election is perfunctory exercise while acknowledging voter dissatisfaction.

Tomblin, a retired Memorial University political science professor, described the campaign as “by-design boring” and an “almost a non-campaign.” Tomblin says the large number of independents and a relatively high proportion of undecided voters in recent polls suggest the electorate may be getting fed up with politics as usual.

Sites like Global and CTV similarly reported on the election – those articles have since been removed, their links redirected to results reportage. Nevertheless, it’s odd that a bitterly fought campaign that resulted in a historic minority government would be described as “by-design boring” and a “non-campaign”.

Clueless Pundits and Blind Smears

As I wrote yesterday, the NL Liberals’ pinned post on their Facebook page literally warns “VOTERS BEWARE” with respect to a “secretive and dark-money fueled [sic] propaganda campaign aiming to influence voters in the upcoming election”.

In response to the government’s complaints and growing political pressure, Facebook declared that they were paying special attention to the election in Newfoundland, where just a modest 100,000 votes will win you a government.

Despite all of the hubbub about removing inauthentic accounts and fake news, there does not seem to be any evidence of either of those being a real issue in Canada.

That did not stop the state broadcaster from declaring that there was a conspiracy of “spreading meme-based propaganda for conservative politicians“, specifically referencing the Facebook pages Ontario Proud and NL Strong.

These developments come in the context of a parliament in Ottawa that seems bent on new avenues to censor the upcoming election, and on the heels of a Trudeau government announcement that they will release a list of “approved” newspapers and websites.

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