Premier Paul Davis, whose Progressive Conservatives have held power since 2003, is expected this week to announce the official start of a mercifully brief provincial election campaign that will culminate in a vote Nov. 30.
Liberal Leader Dwight Ball, buoyed by Liberal victories in every one of Atlantic Canada's 32 federal ridings on Oct. 19, kicked off his campaign Monday by invoking Justin Trudeau's strategy of appealing to voters' desire for change.
"People of our province want politics of hope, of change," he said. "And that’s what’s behind the big red door."
For his part, Davis says he's focusing on leadership and hope. But he's also included a healthy dose of fear, warning that the Liberals have a hidden agenda that involves making big spending and job cuts to deal with the province's projected $1-billion deficit.
"There is a real threat on the horizon — a threat to your customers, a threat to your businesses, a threat to infrastructure and construction," Davis, a former police officer, recently told the St. John's Board of Trade.
The hope versus fear paradigm favours the Liberals, as it did their federal cousins, says Tim Powers, vice-chairman of Summa Strategies and a former Conservative strategist from St. John's, N.L.
"It's going to be very hard for the Progressive Conservative party .... to hang on," Powers says.
"There just seems to be this overwhelming desire for change. There isn't a messianic figure in the PC camp who has been able to change the focus."
Don Mills, head of Halifax-based Corporate Research Associates, says the Liberals have been leading in the polls since 2013 when Ball was elected party leader.
"I think it's just time that (the Conservatives) are going to be replaced," says Mills "(The Liberals) are the government in waiting at the moment."
In the three years since the immensely popular Danny Williams stepped down as Conservative leader and left politics, the party has struggled to connect with voters.
"Ever since then, it's been downhill," says Powers.
Under Kathy Dunderdale, Tory popularity tanked amid a series of missteps that included her assertion in January 2014 that after four days of blackouts that left tens of thousands of residents without power, the province was not in a crisis. She resigned less than three weeks later.
"By the time the power outages happened, Kathy Dunderdale was pretty much done," says Kelly Blidook, associate professor of political science at Memorial University of Newfoundland. "The power outages were the final nails ... It had this almost Marie Antoinette moment to it."
Dunderdale's departure was followed by an aborted leadership race that saw one candidate ejected from the contest before the other two contenders backed out, prompting an embarrassing reboot.
The governing party's woes have been compounded by the dramatic slide in the price of oil. With royalties from the once booming offshore energy sector accounting for one third of the provincial budget in 2013, the government has since experienced a sharp and sudden reversal in fortune.
The oil price slump is expected to cost the province $1.5 billion in lost revenue in 2015-16, according to an analysis from RBC.
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