HALIFAX - The Liberals took a commanding hold of Atlantic Canada in Monday's election, capturing all 32 ridings across the region as it set the stage early for a majority government.
It was a significant reversal of fortunes for the party, which saw its grip on the region crumble four years ago amid a Tory surge.
This time around, the Liberals nabbed high-profile seats held by veteran New Democrats and Conservative cabinet ministers, which one political scientist said was a clear bid to oust Stephen Harper and his Tories from government.
Conservative Fisheries Minister Gail Shea, first elected to the House of Commons in 2008, lost her seat in the P.E.I. riding of Egmont to Liberal Robert Morrissey, a former member of the provincial legislature.
But the loss didn't seem to catch Shea completely off-guard.
She said her constituents made their dislike for Harper clear as she went door-to-door.
"Oh yes, I heard it on the doorsteps and I expected it would have an impact on the campaign,'' she said.
Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Minister Bernard Valcourt also went down in defeat to a Liberal rival in his New Brunswick riding of Madawaska-Restigouche.
In Nova Scotia, Liberal Andy Fillmore claimed the riding of Halifax held by deputy NDP leader Megan Leslie. Her caucus colleague, Peter Stoffer, also lost his long-held seat in Sackville-Eastern Shore.
Don Desserud, a political science professor at the University of Prince Edward Island, said he believes Atlantic Canadians cast their ballots strategically to bolster the Liberals' chances of forming government and defeating the Conservatives.
"People who did not want the Conservatives to win were looking at the NDP as serious contenders,'' he said from Cornwall, P.E.I.
"When that stopped being as obvious a factor nationally ... that picked up the support for the Liberals and then you see this massive move in that direction.''
Desserud said incumbents like Leslie, a well-liked MP both in Halifax and at the national level, shouldn't take the loss too personally.
"Everybody seems to like her,'' said Desserud. "I have to assume it has nothing to do with her. It's just basically people saying, 'We need to be absolutely sure that the Conservatives lose and this is the only way we can do it.' ''
The Liberals also nabbed the longtime Conservative stronghold of Central Nova, previously held by former Tory cabinet minister Peter MacKay, with the election of Sean Fraser. The Tories had hoped former Stephen Harper adviser Fred Delorey would be a successor to MacKay, who had held the riding since 1997 before leaving politics earlier this year.
Elsewhere in the province, Bill Casey — a former Conservative turned Independent MP — easily won his seat for the Liberals in
Cumberland-Colchester, taking over from incumbent Tory Scott Armstrong.
"It is a strong message, not only here but across Atlantic Canada that the people want change, and they're going to get it,'' Casey told supporters at a pub in Amherst.
In Newfoundland and Labrador, the Liberals saw five of their incumbents re-elected and picked up the province's remaining two seats previously held by New Democrats.
St. John's East, considered a safe NDP seat, turned Liberal red as Jack Harris was defeated in favour of Liberal Nick Whalen.
NDP incumbent Ryan Cleary also lost out to Liberal and former CTV host Seamus O'Regan in the riding of St. John's South-Mount Pearl.
The Liberals also held onto the riding of Avalon, but this time with candidate Ken McDonald, the mayor of Conception Nay South.
Incumbent Scott Andrews left the Liberal party following allegations of sexual harassment involving a New Democrat MP and ran in the election as an independent.
Yvonne Jones held onto her seat as well in Labrador, a riding she easily won in a 2013 byelection following the resignation of Conservative cabinet minister Peter Penashue over illegitimate campaign expenses.
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