BLOOMFIELD, Canada – A high profile member of Stephen Harper's cabinet was defeated Monday as the Liberals consolidated their grip in Prince Edward Island, easily sweeping the province's four federal seats.
Fisheries Minister Gail Shea lost her riding of Egmont to Liberal Bobby Morrissey, a former member of the provincial legislature.
Personally popular, Shea first won the traditional Liberal stronghold by a slim margin in 2008 and by more than 4,000 votes in 2011.
But as the 11-week campaign progressed she increasingly battled the anti-Harper sentiment that ran strong across the Island, where the Liberals held three of the four federal seats when the election began.
Shea was direct in defeat, admitting that she heard about voters' dislike for Harper as she made the rounds during the campaign.
“Oh yes, I heard it on the doorsteps and I expected it would have an impact on the campaign,” she said.
However, Shea refused to pin all of the blame on the prime minister, saying instead that there was a large appetite for change among voters.
“I think as you can see with the trends across Atlantic Canada there was a real mood for change. When you are going for your fourth mandate it's always difficult.”
The urge for change was fatal for her hopes in Egmont, a riding that was seen from the outset as a potentially tough three-way race.
In the end it wasn't close as the votes rolled in and Morrissey steadily pulled away.
Recognized as a down-to-earth, no-nonsense politician, Shea couldn't overcome issues such as changes made to the Employment Insurance program – a sensitive topic in a province where rural unemployment is high.
Many political observers have also pointed to the government's handling of the Senate expenses scandal, involving former Islander Mike Duffy, as a large obstacle to overcome, although Shea said she didn't hear about it in Egmont.
Shea said she was satisfied that she had delivered for her constituents while in office.
“As far as I'm concerned we have delivered a lot for Prince Edward Island and Atlantic Canada, but I guess that wasn't top of people's minds.”
When asked whether she was relieved that the marathon campaign was over, Shea responded with a flash of her trademark good humour.
“Well you know what, I can go golfing tomorrow now,” she chuckled.
Elsewhere on the Island, long-serving Liberal incumbent Lawrence MacAulay easily outdistanced his closest challenger, Conservative Julius Pataki in the Cardigan riding. MacAulay, with 27 years in office heading into the election, is the longest-serving federal politician in Island history.
Wayne Easter, another veteran Liberal incumbent, also eventually pulled away from Tory candidate Stephen Stewart in Malpeque.
Concerns over Conservative cuts to the federal civil service in Charlottetown is believed to have played a role in Liberal incumbent Sean Casey's win in the Island's capital region.
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