Election Insights: Newfoundland and Labrador

May. 17, 2019

The Conservative wave that has been sweeping Canadian provincial politics was held off in Newfoundland and Labrador on Thursday – denying provincial conservatives their sixth consecutive electoral victory –  but not without causing some further damage to Liberal fortunes.

The Liberals and Progressive Conservatives were virtually tied in the popular vote (43.9% to 42.6%), illustrating that Conservative momentum in Atlantic Canada has penetrated ‘The Rock’. The PCs campaigned against Premier Ball’s spending and his propensity to kick difficult decisions down the road, a message that resonated with a lot of voters.

Now the Liberals find themselves in a precarious minority government that will rely on the support of two openly disgruntled former Liberals who ran successfully as Independents, or, three elected NDP members who will have no appetite for any austerity measures; circumstances that bode well for the PCs in what could be a short-lived government.

Newfoundland and Labrador’s 40-seat legislature will now contain 20 Liberal MLAs, a difficult situation for the reigning Liberals as they will have to select a Speaker to be neutral in the House of Assembly. The Speaker normally votes in favour of the government in cases of a tie. However, this likely won’t apply often as with a Liberal MLA in the Speaker’s seat means all opposition MLAs could vote against the government 20-19 in the Legislature.

There may be hope yet – as Labrador West saw the NDP win over the incumbent Liberals by a slim margin of 5 votes, triggering an automatic recount. Should the recount go to the Liberals, they may be able to hold on to government with the slimmest of majorities.

The Liberals will be working quickly to form agreements with either the NDP or the Independents to try and hold on to power. Forming an alliance with the Independents will be quite difficult as they were both ousted from Liberal caucus by leader Dwight Ball. The NDP may be able to push the Liberals to move away from austerity measures in favour of an alliance, as they are deeply concerned with Ches Crosbie’s deeply cynical PC Party.

While they made many gains in the election, Ches Crosbie and the Progressive Conservatives have been met with some concerns about their tactics. The rise of NL Proud, a social media sensation found to be run by Crosbie cronies, as well as the attack methods and negative language of the Leader have left some Newfoundlanders and Labradorians wondering if they are all bark and no bite – what changes are they going to bring to the province?

So what does this mean for the federal landscape? Will the NDP be able to win over St. John’s East in October? Have the Conservatives gained enough ground to land federal seats this fall? With only seven seats up for grabs, it remains to be seen.

In central Newfoundland, the Conservatives have a real chance at a seat, and based on the provincial results we may see them make federal gains in Avalon. The NDP, however, are doing very poorly nationally, and while they hold two seats provincially in St. John’s, there is no guarantee at this point that they can lock down a federal seat with minimal resources and losses in the polls.

The Atlantic Accord and the federal support for immigration to the Atlantic provinces are increasing economic outcomes in Newfoundland and Labrador, but are these changes enough to maintain the outstanding Liberal support they earned in 2015?

At this point, this provincial election is the last before the big show come October (perhaps Manitoba, but the jury is still out). We will continue to monitor polls, trends, and insider information to forecast the federal election.