A newly fortified Liberal fortress took shape Monday in Newfoundland and Labrador as the party held on to most of the province’s seven seats in the federal election.
Long before the 11-week election campaign started, pundits were predicting the eastern-most province would remain a political wasteland for the Conservatives, who lost the one seat they gained in 2011 when Labrador MP Peter Penashue resigned over illegitimate campaign expenses in 2013.
The Liberals had elected five candidates in the province’s seven ridings, but the race was just getting started in the two NDP-held ridings in the St. John’s area.
When the election campaign started, the Liberals held four seats in Newfoundland and Labrador, the NDP had two, and there was one Independent.
The most closely watched race was in St. John’s South-Mount Pearl, where high-profile Liberal challenger Seamus O’Regan — a former co-host of CTV’s Canada AM — was in a race with incumbent New Democrat MP Ryan Cleary, a former journalist who has long described himself as “a fighting Newfoundlander.”
NDP veteran Jack Harris, who once served as the leader of the provincial wing of the party, was also in a fight with a Liberal, lawyer and engineer Nick Whalen.
In the adjacent riding of Avalon, Independent MP Scott Andrews lost to Liberal Ken McDonald, the mayor of Conception Bay South, the second-largest municipality in the province.
Andrews left the Liberal caucus last March after being suspended for alleged sexual misconduct involving another MP. He has maintained the allegations against him were never substantiated and that he was denied due process by the party.
All but one riding — Long Range Mountains — had incumbents seeking re-election.
Penashue lost in his attempt to return to the Commons in Labrador, where Liberal Yvonne Jones was elected again after winning the seat in a byelection when Penashue stepped down.
The Liberals’ firm grip on the province has held fast since 2008, when then premier Danny Williams lashed out at Prime Minister Stephen Harper, accusing him of reneging on a pledge to protect the province’s offshore oil royalties from equalization clawbacks.
Provincewide disdain for Harper grew as Williams unleashed a scathing ABC (Anything But Conservative) campaign that took aim at the prime minister’s character.
Earlier this month, Williams renewed his attacks on Harper by suggesting the prime minister couldn’t be trusted to negotiate a deal under the Trans Pacific Partnership, the details of which have yet to be released. As proof, Williams said the federal Conservatives turned their backs on a commitment under a European Union trade deal to compensate the province’s fisheries industry.