05/14/2013 10:44 EDT | Updated 05/14/2013 12:42 EDT

Labrador Byelection: Liberal Win Shows Trudeau Is In Over His Head, Tories Argue


Conservatives believe a resounding Liberal victory in the Labrador byelection is just further proof rookie leader Justin Trudeau is in over his head.

Wait. What?

Grit candidate Yvonne Jones easily defeated former intergovernmental affairs minister Peter Penashue Monday night and handed Harper Conservatives their first byelection defeat in a Tory-held seat since coming to power in 2006.

According to Elections Canada, Jones won 48.2 per cent of the vote, while Penashue took 32.5 per cent and NDP candidate Harry Borlase had 18.8 per cent.

Yet, Tory director of communications Frank DeLorey believes the win reflects poorly on Trudeau. He released the following statement after the results.

As we know, majority governments do not usually win by-elections. In fact, Liberals have won the riding of Labrador in every election in history except for two, so we are not surprised with these results.

What is surprising is the collapse of the Liberal support during this by-election. When this by-election was called the Liberals had a 43-point lead in the polls. Since electing Justin Trudeau as leader and having him personally campaign there, they have dropped 20 points in Labrador. That’s a significant drop in only a few weeks. Labradorians were able to see firsthand how Justin Trudeau is in over his head.

Trudeau visited Labrador several weeks ago and urged voters to reject what he calls the Tory politics of division.

"Stephen Harper isn't afraid of me, they're afraid of you," he told one crowd. "They're afraid of every single Canadian across this country standing up and saying, 'You know what? We deserve better.'"

The Liberal leader released a statement Monday in which he said the win proved "the Liberal message of hope and hard work is resonating."

NDP leader Thomas Mulcair campaigned twice in Labrador but was unable to move his party’s vote share much beyond where it stood in the 2011 election.

Unsurprisingly, the New Democratic Party was also quick to dismiss suggestions the byelection results point to a Liberal resurgence or big victory for Trudeau.

"Voters in Labrador who voted for Jack Layton in the last election, voted for Tom again this time and ... certainly we'll continue to look to build upon that,” NDP national director Nathan Rotman told The Canadian Press.

Toronto Star columnist Chantal Hébert was also quick to argue the Labrador results shouldn't be seen as holding clues to the 2015 federal election. In fact, she believes an expected byelection in the Montreal riding of Bourassa, which will become vacant if Liberal Denis Coderre launches his expected bid for Montreal mayor, will offer much better insights of where parties stand.

"It is not every byelection that is a make-or-break test of leadership, but there are some that a leader cannot afford to lose," she wrote. "Trudeau has as much if not more on the line against the NDP and the Bloc in Bourassa as he did against the Conservatives in Labrador."

Liberals have won the Labrador riding in all but two elections since the province joined Confederation in 1949. Penashue beat Liberal incumbent Todd Russell in 2011 by just 79 votes.

Penashue stepped down from cabinet in March, saying he wanted to acknowledge campaign overspending in 2011 and regain the trust of voters.

Elections Canada records show the former Innu Nation leader exceeded his campaign spending limit of $84,468.09 by $5,529.76 while also accepting tens of thousands of dollars in off-limits donations. They included cash from 16 listed corporations and non-monetary contributions from two airlines that flew him around the riding.

Penashue told Labrador voters they would be better served with a representative in Harper’s inner circle. Defence Minister Peter MacKay personally guaranteed Penashue would immediately be returned to federal cabinet if he won.

But Jones, a former provincial Liberal party leader and 17-year veteran of the legislature, was able to convince enough voters she would be a stronger voice for Labrador.

"The people of Labrador wanted change," she told a roaring crowd at her victory party in Happy Valley-Goose Bay. "They want representation that's going to put Labrador first and I can guarantee you, they've got it tonight."

With files from The Canadian Press

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