ST. JOHN’S, N.L. — The Liberals in Newfoundland and Labrador were maintaining a solid lead over the Progressive Conservatives as ballots were counted in an election that played out against the backdrop of a moribund economy.
As the results rolled in, the Liberals were elected or leading in 25 ridings, the Tories were at 12, there were two Independents ahead and one New Democrat.
The incumbent Liberals, led by Premier Dwight Ball, are seeking a second term in office. Ball easily won his seat in western Newfoundland.
The Liberals were considered front-runners at the beginning of the campaign, but the Tories — led by lawyer Ches Crosbie — closed the gap toward the end of the race.
However, the surveys also suggested the electorate wasn’t entirely won over by Crosbie’s pledge to do things differently.
Part of the problem was that Crosbie’s Conservatives have taken much of the blame for delays and blown budgets plaguing the Muskrat Falls hydroelectric project, still under construction in central Labrador.
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The megaproject, which the Tories approved in late 2012, is two years behind schedule and the projected cost has doubled to more than $12.7 billion.
Crosbie, the 65-year-old son of former federal cabinet minister John Crosbie, has been stung by forecasts suggesting residential electricity rates will double by 2021 to pay off the project.
As well, an ongoing public inquiry has hurt the Tories. Since last fall, former Tory cabinet ministers and premiers have testified about alleged mismanagement and cost overruns.
As for the Liberals, they also had their share of challenges.
Ball, a 62-year-old former pharmacist, was hobbled by an economy that has sputtered since world oil prices plummeted in late 2014.
In 2015, when his party was elected to govern, Ball promised no public service layoffs and no tax increases. But the province’s bleak economic outlook forced him to break both of those promises, causing a public backlash.
With a population of 525,000, the province’s debt is more than $13 billion — the heaviest per capita burden in the country.
In 2018, it was the only province to record a drop in gross domestic product, and its debt-to-GDP ratio — considered a good benchmark of economic health — stood at 47 per cent, by far the worst in Canada.
And even though the population of the three Maritime provinces is growing at its fastest pace in decades, Newfoundland and Labrador’s is declining.
When the election was called, the Liberals held 27 seats in the 40-seat legislature, the Tories had eight, the New Democratic Party held two and there were three Independents.
The NDP, led by former economics professor Alison Coffin, nominated only 14 candidates.