Thursday, March 14, 2013

Labrador insta-analysis

I present to you some thoughts on the upcoming Labrador by-election. By the way, here is a link to donate to the Labrador FLA:

With the resignation of Conservative Minister Peter Penashue after he admitted his campaign took illegal donations, Labrador faces a fascinating by-election. Penashue is taking the rare step of running in the by-election to attempt to re-gain a mandate, something that by my count has only happened a few times in Canadian history. (Sheila Copps in 1996 and  Roch La Salle in 1981 are the only examples that I can name off the top of my head.)

Penashue won an extremely narrow victory in 2011, defeating incumbant Liberal MP Todd Russell by only 79 votes, or less than 1 vote per poll. Penashue's victory in 2011 can be attributed to a few factors. As former Grand Chief of the Innu Nation, he was able to increase Innu turnout in the election, a demographic that for a variety of reasons has historically not had higher turnout. The return of the Newfoundland and Labrador PC's to the federal Tory fold has to be taken into consideration, as many PC voters and organizers followed Danny Williams' ABC campaign in 2008, resulting in Labrador having less than 40% turnout and Russell romping to victory with 70% of the vote with the Conservative candidate, a Parliament Hill staffer originally from St. John's finishing in 3rd with less than 10% of the vote. The NDP vote rising in 2011 also cost Russell. Discounting the 2008 result, comparing the 2006 and 2011 results shows a stable Tory vote - Penashue's victory in 2011 with 4,256 votes was actually less than the 2006 2nd place Tory finish of 4,528 votes. Russell's vote from 2006/2011 went from 5,768 to 4,177 (it should be noted that his rise in popular vote % from 2006 to 2008 from 51% to 70% was based on the Tory vote collapsing, his raw vote in 2008 was actually slightly lower than his 2006 score) while the NDP vote from 2008 to 2011 went up by almost 1000 votes. With the provincial NDP polling well right now, they will be a factor in the race.

By-elections historically have low turnout, but it should be noted that the 2005 Labrador by-election in which Russell was elected had a 53% turnout, higher than the turnout in the general elections of 2011, 2008, 2004 and 2000. However, this by-election was held during the height of the Martin minority government when one seat could have tipped the balance of power in the House, so with this by-election being held two years into a majority mandate I'd be very surprised to see the voters of the riding hold the same level of urgency. Not sure exactly who would benefit the most from low voter turnout, particularly in a riding with a large aboriginal population.

With clouds of election donation and spending over his head, Penashue hardly goes into the by-election with momentum on his side. Given the strained relations between the federal government and First Nations groups, it might be difficult for Penashue to motivate Innu turnout like he did in 2011. Aboriginals make up just under 40% of the population of the riding. The big wild card will be the Muskrat Falls project, which Penashue will almost certainly point to as an example of his being able to bring home the bacon. Penashue has done almost nothing else notable as Intergovernmental Affairs Minister.

Former MP Todd Russell (who is aboriginal himself) would be the most likely candidate for the Liberals, he's said he's going to take a few days to make a decision. Russell was generally well liked from what I understand (his losing 38.1% of the vote would be enough to get you elected in a lot of other ridings) and was close with Justin Trudeau when they served together as MP's, so the nomination would probably be his for the taking. If Russell takes a pass, the other name I've seen tossed about on Twitter is Liberal MHA and former leader Yvonne Jones, who represents the Southeastern portion of Labrador. Jones has a strong local base in her Liberal stronghold riding, never winning less than 56% of the vote, and that was as an independent candidate. Even in the 2007 Danny Williams landslide, Jones won 73% of the vote, and in the last election won 71%.

I briefly mentioned the NDP, who would hope to play spoiler and potentially come up the middle. The NDP has never won the seat federally, although they have posted respectable results historically, and have twice won the Labrador West seat provincially (they also won the poll covering most of western Labrador in the 2011 federal election). New polls show the NDP leading the PC's in popular support province wide, although support for the NDP outside Western Labrador tends to be concentracted in the St. John's and Avalon area. The newest poll shows them nearly 50% of the vote in this area, compared to 32% in the rest of the province. The size and remoteness of Labrador is problem in terms of polling, however, as Labrador has only 6% of the population of the province, and thus only 6% of the survey results were from the province. I won't claim enough about Newfoundland politics to know who the NDP candidate might be, with 2011 and 2006 candidate Jake Larkin being the most obvious choice. Former Labrador West NDP MHA Randy Collins spent 21 months in jail for fraud, so I'm willing to cross him off the list, as well as the previous NDP MHA Peter Fenwick, who ran for the Canadian Alliance in 2000. 2011 Labrador West provincial candidate Tom Harris perhaps?

Timing will also be an issue. Assuming Denis Coderre resigns as MP for Bourassa to focus on a bid for Montreal mayor, Harper would probably call both by-elections at the same time. It makes sense tactically for the Conservatives to do so anyway, they are an afterthought in Bourassa, so they could throw everything at Labrador (assuming they want to), while the Liberals and NDP would have to focus on both, with the Liberals in particular wanting to hold on to Bourassa from the NDP or Bloc (whose leader, Daniel Paille is seatless), while the NDP would dearly like to mount serious offensive campaigns in both ridings.

On the whole, I think the Liberals have the best shot of winning the riding back, assuming they get an A list candidate in either Russell or Jones although realistically any of the 3 parties has a shot. What kind of support Penashue gets from party central will be an interesting question, the Conservatives obviously would prefer to keep the seat, but given the circumstances of Penashue's resignation and new campaign, I can't imagine they want to get many media photos of Penashue with visiting Ministers.

1 comment:

Jordan said...

Jones will be the fronrunner in this race, but her win isn't a guarantee. The current Deputy Mayor of Happy Valley-Goose Bay may run for the NDP. She ran in the 2011 provincial election and had a very respectable showing. HVGP is the largest community in Labrador with Labrador West being the largest region, if she can win those areas Jones could be at risk.

As well Penashue may not be that unpopular, he's helped push through Muskrat Fall, has gotten money for roads, and internet upgrades. A three way split could be possible and Penashue, or the other two, could take it by a few votes.