POLITICS

Newfoundland-Labrador Ridings Kick Off Early Lead For Liberals

10/19/2015 08:07 EDT | Updated 10/20/2015 12:59 EDT
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ST. JOHN'S, N.L. - A Liberal fortress loomed over Newfoundland and Labrador after the earliest federal election results were tallied late Monday against the backdrop of a political wasteland for the Conservatives.

With virtually all of the polls reporting, the Liberals won all seven of the province's seats. The last time that happened was in 1993 when then-prime minister Kim Campbell led the Progressive Conservatives to a crushing defeat.

For several hours after the polls closed, the NDP struggled to hold on to one of the two St. John's ridings the party won in 2011.

But it was not to be. In the riding of St. John's East, NDP veteran Jack Harris lost by just over 650 votes to Liberal candidate Nick Whalen, a lawyer and engineer.

When the election campaign started 11 weeks ago, the Liberals held four seats, the NDP had two, and there was one Independent.

Pundits were predicting the province would remain a blank 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 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 — defeated incumbent NDP MP Ryan Cleary, a former journalist who has long described himself as "a fighting Newfoundlander.''

O'Regan won by more than 9,000 votes.

After a victory speech that included a description of Prime Minister Stephen Harper as a "duplicitous'' politician dedicated to the politics of division, O'Regan was asked if his win was the result of a Liberal wave rather than his own campaign.

"Where it begins and where it ends, I don't know,'' he said. "If you want to believe that about me, perhaps you can.''

He said voters in his riding were not swayed by his national profile and he admitted that he has learned from some of the flubs he made on the campaign trail, which included a now-famous television interview featuring several stops and starts as the candidate searched for information.

"I'm a diligent student. It doesn't mean that you get great grades every week. But I'll work at it and I'll learn.''

In the adjacent riding of Avalon, Independent MP Scott Andrews was defeated by 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 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.

As proof, Williams said the Conservatives turned their backs on a commitment under a European Union trade deal to compensate the province's fisheries industry.

"Good trade agreements are good for the country if they're negotiated properly, but you cannot trust what this man (Harper) is saying to you on that agreement,'' Williams said.

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