Voters in Newfoundland and Labrador head to the polls today to decide the fate of Premier Dwight Ball’s Liberal government after an election campaign that focused on two leaders – neither of whom is particularly well-liked by the public.
Recent polls have suggested the Liberals, who are seeking a second term in office, were locked in a tight race with the Progressive Conservatives, led by lawyer Ches Crosbie – son of former federal cabinet minister John Crosbie.
Though no government in Newfoundland and Labrador has served less than three consecutive terms, the Liberals are all too aware that a recent string of provincial elections have turfed the incumbents.
Since last June, five governments have been voted out of office, four of them Liberal administrations.
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The Liberals in Newfoundland and Labrador have been struggling to deal with a stalled economy, a massive debt and a leader who hasn’t really clicked with the electorate.
However, Crosbie’s Tories have plenty of political baggage to deal with now that they are being blamed for the multibillion-dollar debacle that is the Muskrat Falls hydroelectric project.
It was a previous Tory government that sanctioned the project, which is now two years behind schedule and double its original projected cost at $12.5 billion.
Residents have been warned their electricity rates are expected to double to cover the inflated cost, and an ongoing judicial inquiry has routinely provided disturbing insights into a megaproject that has gone off the rails.
As well, the electorate hasn’t warmed to Crosbie, a lawyer and political rookie who was elected Tory leader just over a year ago.
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Crosbie, of course, is promising change. He’s even described himself as “a new broom.”
The province’s New Democrats, led by economist Alison Coffin, were caught unprepared when Ball – a former pharmacist – called for an early election to avoid a conflict with the federal vote this fall. There are only 14 NDP candidates running in the provincial election – 26 shy of a full slate.
When the provincial election was called, the Liberals held 27 seats in the 40-seat legislature, the Tories had eight, the NDP held two and there were three Independents.
Though there are nine Independent candidates in the race, the Green party has not fielded a single candidate, despite breakthroughs in Prince Edward Island and New Brunswick earlier this year and British Columbia in 2017.
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Stephen Tomblin, a retired Memorial University political science professor, described the campaign as “by-design boring” and an “almost a non-campaign.”
Tomblin says the large number of independents and a relatively high proportion of undecided voters in recent polls suggest the electorate may be getting fed up with politics as usual.
That raises the possibility of a minority government, something the province hasn’t seen since October 1971, when there was a virtual tie between the Liberals and Tories. Less than five months later, the legislature was dissolved and the Tories won a majority government.