By all accounts, Newfoundland and Labrador’s 2019 election outcome won’t have many early projections, as the NDP fight to keep the party in the legislature, and the Liberals and the Tories battle it out for the most candidates.
Throw in a couple of popular Independents and you have a real race to watch.
Whether they’re tight matches or districts with high stakes, below is a list of districts you should keep an eye on this Thursday night.
Tory Bill Matthews has taken the district on the boot of the Burin Peninsula in landslides. But that was many years ago.
Will the support be the same in the redistributed district?
Historically, the district has supported both PC and Liberal candidates — most recently with Carol Anne Haley, who also served as a minister in Liberal Leader Dwight Ball’s caucus.
Haley is a one-term politician but has worked in the background with the Liberals for years with former federal parliamentarian Judy Foote.
She also helped volunteer for Matthews when he ran for the Liberals.
Both Matthews and Haley are confident in their chances, and with just two candidates in the running, the district could go either way.
St. John’s East-Quidi Vidi
All eyes will be on Lorraine Michael’s former district of St. John’s East-Quidi Vidi as new NDP Leader Alison Coffin fights for her political life.
Her biggest competition: George Murphy, a former NDP MHA who switched sides to the Liberals after a messy divorce from his former party.
Tory newcomer David Porter has been campaigning hard, but all signs point to a toss-up between Murphy and Coffin.
It’s a race that will set the stage for the New Democrats’ political future.
St. John’s Centre
In the capital city’s core, the race will see past and current heads of the George Street Association take on the former head of the teachers’ union.
All three candidates — PC Jonathan Galgay, NDP Jim Dinn and Liberal Seamus O’Regan — are known faces and are first-time provincial candidates.
Dinn, a retired teacher who’s best known as the former president of the Newfoundland and Labrador Teachers’ Association, is said to be one of few NDP candidates with a shot at getting elected.
For the other two parties, it’s a chance for a pickup, after NDP MHA Gerry Rogers decided not to seek re-election
Ask anyone who knows Paul Lane and they’ll tell you he’s a constituency guy. Frosty Festival? He’s there. Community event? He’s the tall guy in the back.
But Lane is also a floor-crosser, who won by fewer than 300 votes in the 2015 election.
Lane was elected in 2011 with the Tories and sat as a backbencher. He left the party over the divisive Bill 29, which dealt with access to information, and Muskrat Falls.
He then sat with the Liberals. But he left them too, after the tax-hiking 2016 budget.
Mount Pearl-Southlands is one of few districts where voters have plenty of choice.
Hasan Hai, a well-known community volunteer who spearheaded the lucrative Merb’ys charity, is running for the Liberals. The PCs have a strong candidate in Gillian Pearson, a mother of two young children who founded Parents for Affordable Childcare NL. And the NDP is represented by David Brake. He works at Let’s Talk Science, an organization that helps young people learn about science and technology.
At her campaign rally — which drew just a few dozen people — Liberal incumbent Betty Parsley confidently declared, “Betty is ready!”
But boy, she’ll have to fight for it.
The Tories are positive of candidate Helen Conway Ottenheimer‘s chances to turn the district blue.
Conway Ottenheimer is a lawyer who boasts 20 years’ experience teaching law. She’s no novice to politics either, as her husband John Ottenheimer is a former cabinet minister with the Progressive Conservatives.
Three others fought for the PC nomination — which speaks to the Tory appetite in the region.
Parsley, who served as the mayor of Harbour Main-Chapel’s Cove-Lakeview prior to entering provincial politics, was the only Liberal incumbent to face competition for the nomination.
Voters have a new party to choose from, too, with NL Alliance candidateMike Cooze. He made headlines in January for protesting a proposed mining exploration site near the Salmonier Nature Park and the Avalon Wilderness Reserve by tying himself to a gate.
Harbour Grace-Port de Grave
Glenn Littejohn admits he could feel the loss coming in the last provincial election. This time, the repeat Tory candidate feels the winds are changing.
The incumbent, Liberal backbencher Pam Parsons, boasts regional successes like the replacement for Coley’s Point Primary and fighting to keep the Harbour Grace courthouse open.
Littlejohn was a backbencher in Kathy Dunderdale’s government, and has been facing questions at the door about him supporting Muskrat Falls when it was sanctioned.
Four years ago, Liberal newcomer Jerry Dean clinched victory in the district of Exploits. The former Botwood mayor knocked out longtime Tory Clayton Forsey.
This time around, both Dean and Clayton Forsey have returned — Dean as a candidate and Forsey as the campaign manager for the PCs’ new candidate and his younger brother, Pleaman Forsey.
Local teacher Gloria Cooper doesn’t align with any party in particular, and as such, is running as an Independent.
With just 165 votes separating Dean and former incumbent Clayton Forsey in 2015, this is a race to watch.
PC Leader Ches Crosbie has been touring the province as he hopes to capture as many votes as possible for his party.
That hasn’t given him much time to go door-to-door in his won district of Windsor Lake, where he’s taking on the brother of veteran politician Tom Osborne.
Bob Osborne, a first-time candidate and admitted new Liberal, has been campaigning hard, often with the support of his brother and members of the Liberal team.
Unlike most other districts, Windsor Lake has an NDP candidate. Tomás Shea ran for the PC party in the 2015 election in Carbonear-Trinity-Bay De Verde, placing second behind victor Steve Crocker.
Crosbie captured the seat in Windsor Lake in a byelection triggered by Cathy Bennett’s departure. He defeated Liberal Paul Antle for the seat, with just 43 per cent of the vote.
If Crosbie fails to capture his own seat it will call into question his future as leader of the Progressive Conservatives.
Humber-Bay of Islands
The last time an Independent was elected into the legislature was in 1996, when Yvonne Jones lost the Liberal nomination to Danny Dumaresque in Cartwright-L’Anse au Clair.
As soon she entered the House of Assembly, Jones switched to the Liberals.
Now 23 years later, Eddie Joyce has the opportunity to do the same, as he seeks a fifth election victory in Humber-Bay of Islands.
The longtime Liberal was unceremoniously booted from the caucus a year ago, causing a massive rift between him and former friend (and Liberal Leader) Dwight Ball.
Three reports were tabled by the commissioner of legislative standards after Joyce faced allegations of harassment and bullying by his fellow MHAs. He was cleared of all allegations, but Joyce was found to have violated the MHA code of conduct by lobbying to have a friend awarded a government job.
Despite all that, he is arguably one of the most popular politicians among constituents, capturing nearly 85 per cent of the vote in the last election.
The wayward west coast politician is so popular, in fact, that the nine-person district association resigned in support of him.
What will make this seat even more interesting is if the Liberals need another seat to maintain a majority government.
Brian Dicks, the Corner Brook ward councillor for the Qalipu Mi’kmaq First Nation, is running for the Liberal Party. He has the support of businessman Bill Barry, who sought the PC party leadership in 2014.
The Tories are running Michael Holden, who has a background in tourism, and the NDP candidate is Shawn Hodder, a first-time candidate who works for an audio-video company.
Stephenville-Port au Port
Tony Wakeham first stepped in the political spotlight when he challenged Ches Crosbie for the PC leadership in 2017 and lost.
Now, the former Labrador-Grenfell Health CEO is taking on one-term MHA John Finn for the district of Stephenville-Port au Port.
Wakeham, who is originally from Placentia, promises to use his background in health care for positive reform.
Meanwhile, Finn is a rarely seen backbencher who insists he does all he can for his district.
Speaking with CBC’s Terry Roberts, Finn said, “Look at Hansard, find a word count, and you will see that I’ve stood on my feet in that legislature just about more than anyone in there, sir.”
Finn has the advantage of being well known in the district, having sat on Stephenville town council and working in the region.
Wakeham, while a high-profile candidate for the Tories, may be unknown to the people whose votes he needs.