Peter Penashue may not be returning to the House of Commons, as a new poll suggests the beleaguered former Tory cabinet minister’s re-election hopes in the upcoming Labrador by-election are slim.
The survey by Forum Research contacted 274 residents of the riding of Labrador between March 30 and April 2 by IVR telephone polling. It is a small sample with a margin of error of +/- 5.9 per cent, but with 37 points separating Penashue from Yvonne Jones, the leading Liberal candidate, it may not matter much.
The poll gives Jones, a former leader of the Newfoundland and Labrador Liberal Party and an MHA for a riding in Labrador, 57 per cent support. Harry Borlase, the NDP’s candidate, places second with 21 per cent while Penashue is third with 20 per cent.
That is half the vote share that Penashue received in the 2011 federal election, while Jones’ haul is 18 points above where defeated Liberal incumbent Todd Russell stood on election night. At 57 per cent, Jones has put the Liberals back to where they traditionally were under Russell (he received 51 per cent support in a 2005 by-election and the 2006 general election, and 70 per cent in 2008).
Penashue has shed much of the support he received in the last vote, as roughly two-in-five of his supporters from 2011 have gone over to the Liberals and another one-in-five supporters have switched to the New Democrats.
The numbers get even worse when respondents are asked how they would vote if Justin Trudeau becomes leader of the Liberal Party (which he almost certainly will be when Labradorians head to the polls). A majority of Penashue’s 2011 supporters would then flip to the Liberals, giving Jones 63 per cent of the vote to only 16 per cent for Penashue. The NDP’s Borlase would hold steady at 21 per cent.
But the poll does not come without its share of caveats. By-election polling itself can be hit or miss, and polling in a remote riding like Labrador is extremely difficult as putting together a representative sample is no easy task. The by-election campaign has also yet to begin, though in a small riding like Labrador (26,000 eligible voters) it is likely that many residents are already paying attention.
And according to the poll’s report, the sample should not handicap the Conservatives: 39 per cent of respondents who voted in the last election said they voted for Penashue, compared to 34 per cent who said they voted Liberal and 20 per cent who said they voted NDP. That is quite close to the actual results of the last election, and the small discrepancy is actually to Penashue’s advantage.
In the end, the results of the poll are as expected – the Conservatives have tanked in regional polling in Atlantic Canada and the Liberals have soared. Jones is very well-known due to her history in the provincial legislature and base of support in Labrador. She has represented the Cartwright-L’Anse au Clair riding since 1996 and has never taken less than 56 per cent of the vote in five election campaigns.
Considering the odds, the Conservatives may decide to hold off on calling the by-election for a while.
Éric Grenier taps The Pulse of federal and regional politics for Huffington Post Canada readers on most Tuesdays and Fridays. Grenier is the author of ThreeHundredEight.com, covering Canadian politics, polls and electoral projections.