Neck & Neck: Part 3 – ABC’s of Newfoundland and Labrador

For Newfoundlanders, it was politics as usual on Sunday, September 20th. Thomas Mulcair and Justin Trudeau rolled into town for another campaign pitstop and the dozing electorate, used to watching politics play out on T.V., were shaken awake for just a brief brush with federal campaign politics.

It’s a tough play for politicians and that’s why these visits are commendable for Mulcair and Trudeau. Newfoundland is much bigger geographically than most Canadians realize and the spectrum of wants and needs in this province is extremely hard to address by any politician in a 25 minute speech. But for a province that has only elected 11 Conservatives (out of a possible 49) in the last 22 years, it’s a justifiable battle for the parties on the left.

Newfoundland and Labrador’s hatred for Stephen Harper; and his party, was fueled when he snubbed Ches Crosbie’s bid for Conservative candidacy in the Avalon riding in July. The son of John Crosby, a well-known politician from the province, might have been their only chance to galvanize a fight in the Avalon riding.

His government is perceived as out touch and has only compounded the feelings of isolation and distaste felt throughout this province. Seemingly, aside from the refugee crisis, Newfoundland represents the only symbol of non-intervention left in Harper’s agenda.

nnabcDuring his reign as Newfoundland premier (2003-2010) Danny Williams encouraged Newfoundlander and Labradorians to vote “ABC” (Anything But Conservative) in the federal election — a sentiment that is still pervasive. Since then, Harper has done next to nothing to win back Newfoundlanders.

The feeling of separation in this province is real, especially when it comes to federal politics. The apathy and disillusionment was reflected when 58% voter turnout in the 2011 federal election marked an all-time low. Still, for a province that has only elected 11 Conservatives to parliament since 1993, it makes a sense why the Liberals and NDP are duking it out.

In recent history, the province has been a Liberal stronghold. Since the 1988 election the Liberals have dominated the province — taking the biggest share in 8 consecutive elections. For Liberals and the NDP, Newfoundland is like the attendance grade of a first year university student. Just showing up can mean an easy 10% on your final grade and if the polls continue to be neck and neck down the stretch, that attendance could make a big difference come election time.

The province represents just 7 out of 308 seats in parliament so it doesn’t take a stretch of the imagination to realize why Harper just doesn’t care about the province. For him, we’re just a proverbial drop in the bucket — in the end he must realize he stands no chance and his money is probably better spent elsewhere.

The NDP leader Thomas Mulcair’s visit was nnndphighlighted by his apology for the 1996 debate slip up that caught him flack from the province. Moreover, Mulcair continued his chorus of accessibility to health care, accessibility to child care, job creation, investing in infrastructure, and a commitment to bring search and rescue and the coast guard back to full force in the province.

Six-hours later, Justin Trudeau took to the stage in Mount Pearl where he honed in on Harper-discontentment. Using this as a way to launch into an emphasis on infrastructure and on Canada’s shortcomings in the refugee crisis among much else.

At any rate, both parties show a commitment to working with provincial governments to address province-specific problems and it should be said that any positive relationship with the federal government would be an improvement at this point. Newfoundlanders and Labradorians want a government that cares about them or at least makes an effort. It just remains to be seen if Trudeau or Mulcair have enough pull to really galvanize the province to vote.

Since I wrote this piece, the Conservatives chose Marek Krol to run in the St. John’s South-Mount Pearl riding, and I think it helps sum things up nicely. Krol is a reality-TV outdoorsman from Ontario and he enters the fray alongside star Liberal politician Seamus O’Regan and the current MP, Ryan Cleary of the NDP party. But, the reality is this selection exemplifies just how out of touch Harper and the Conservatives really are.

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