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Seamus O'Regan: 'Anybody But Conservative' Campaign Hurt Newfoundland

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OTTAWA — Liberal candidate and former television personality Seamus O'Regan says the "Anybody But Conservative" campaign in Newfoundland ended up hurting his province.

Speaking to The Huffington Post Canada during the Liberals' candidate boot camp in Ottawa Tuesday, O'Regan, the candidate for the riding of St. John's South-Mount Pearl, currently held by the NDP, suggested Prime Minister Stephen Harper's government hasn't worked well with the province after successive elections shut the Tories out from any seats on the island.

"We went through a federal election campaign four years ago, which was called the Anybody But Conservative campaign that was orchestrated by Danny Williams who was the premier of the day and that was effective in the sense that we don't have a Conservative, we don't have member in government," O'Regan said. "The problem isn't just that we don't have a voice in Ottawa, we don't have an ear in Ottawa."

The Anybody But Conservative campaign was actually kicked off in 2008 by Williams who accused Harper of having a hidden agenda and urged Canadians to deny the Tories a majority government.

Williams was upset Harper had broken a promise to remove non-renewable oil revenues from the transfer payment calculations. His campaign was deemed a huge success after no Conservative in the province was elected. Six of the province's seven seats went to Liberals, one went to the NDP.

A year later, however, Williams acknowledged the frosty relationship between the federal government and the province wasn't helpful.

"If the Prime Minister reached out," he told The Globe and Mail, "we would accept any kind of an olive branch."

In 2011, there was no official Anybody But Conservative campaign and the Tories managed to win one seat in Labrador — though the riding went Liberal during a 2013 byelection. Two seats went to the NDP in 2011, including the one O'Regan hopes to win, while the Liberals held four.

Statements can be significant, O'Regan said of Williams' campaign, but relationships are also important to manage.

"When you do something like this you make a significant statement and that's important but at some point you realize that you have to be a player in the game and you have to have a player in the game. So there is a price to be paid," he said.

In the next election, O'Regan said he thinks Newfoundlanders will be spared the side-effects of such campaigns because the Liberals, he believes, will win.

"I want to make sure that we are in the game," he said.

O'Regan predicts and hopes for a majority government. “But that's not up to me," he said.

He thinks that attraction of the Liberal team in Atlantic Canada, where surveys show the Grits are very popular, is due to a focus on "pragmatism, practicality and getting stuff done."

He quotes himself.

"I've often said and it's true, in Newfoundland particularly, we don’t have the luxury of ideology."

He doesn’t think Harper has punished the province but thinks certain things could be better managed and that the federal government should be working hand in glove with the provincial government regardless of party stripe.

He cites a desire for better health care, education and infrastructure.

Newfoundland is suffering the challenges of urbanization. "We are defined by our rural culture but we are increasingly becoming an urban province," he said.

Right now, O'Regan said, the biggest issue is the shrimp fishery and inshore quotas. He thinks the Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada should be decentralized so that decisions are being made closer to the communities they affect.

O'Regan said he's nervous about this new chapter in his life but felt a calling to jump into the political area and try to change things.

"I couldn't sit it out," he said.

A self-proclaimed Alex P. Keaton-type, the geeky Republican adolescent on "Family Ties" played by Michael J. Fox, O'Regan said he's matured in his policy orientation.

Now, he said, he's more "result based."

A young Progressive Conservative staffer to Jean Charest in Ottawa and later an aide to Liberal premier Brian Tobin, O'Regan said he mulled a run for the Liberals for a while before taking the plunge.

He left Toronto and moved back to St. John's just last week.

While learning how to campaign, something he's never done before, he said he remains a policy wonk at heart.

He told HuffPost he's interested in Aboriginal Affairs and economic development, a file that touched him growing up in Labrador.

"When I moved there when I was 12, the first place my father brought me was the Innu village Sheshatshiu and I didn't believe a place like that could exist in Canada. And it's one of many. And it's still like that. And it's heartbreaking."

He's also interested in foreign affairs. Canada's too busy these days standing on a soapbox preaching and not doing any work, O'Regan said. He lamented the cuts to the department and embassies abroad.

But if Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau wins government and offers him a cabinet portfolio, O'Regan seemed to suggest he'd be willing to take anything on.

"If you work in morning television, you can't say no to a subject. I can do anything from prime ministerial interviews to cupcakes and everything in between so I feel very strongly on a number of things," he said.

"Throw anything at me and I'll work like a dog at it."

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