Newfoundland and Yukon (Canada) 2011… and Madeira?!

Provincial elections were held in the Canadian province of Newfoundland and Labrador on October 11, alongside territorial elections in the Canadian territory of Yukon. There were also regional elections on the Portuguese autonomous island of Madeira on October 9, which is being included in this post because it’s cool enough to be mentioned but not interesting enough to warrant its own post. And also because both Newfoundland and Madeira are islands, I guess.

Newfoundland and Labrador 2011

Newfoundland and Labrador has been governed since 2010 by Kathy Dunderdale of the Progressive Conservative Party (PC). Dunderdale had replaced Danny Williams, elected in 2003 and reelected in 2007, as Premier and PC leader following Williams’ retirement.

Newfoundland is Canada’s newest province, having joined Confederation in 1949. In 1869, it had rejected an earlier offer to join Canada and instead preferred to retain responsible government as a British dominion. Until the Great Depression, Newfoundland had in fact enjoyed relative prosperity despite its economic dependence on cod fishing and limited lumbering and mining. Economic opportunities had attracted many Irish Catholic immigrants, most of whom settled on the Avalon Peninsula and in the capital, St. John’s. Irish Catholics soon grew to become 40% of the island’s population, co-dominant alongside the Anglicans and other Protestants of largely English ancestry. The religious disputes which accompanied this religious divided led to sectarianism, which has long been a hallmark of Newfoundland politics. Prior to Confederation, the Liberal Party was largely Catholic while the Tories and later the left-wing Fishermen’s Protective Union (FPU) heavily Protestant and, in the FPU’s case, linked to the powerful Orange Order. Newfoundland was one of the countries hit the hardest by the Great Depression: the collapse in the price of fish devastated the island’s main economic activity, and the government’s uncontrolled spending spree prior to the Depression had created an astronomical debt and deficit. In 1934, Britain was forced to take over its dominion, at the price of abolishing responsible government. Starting in 1945 and culminating in 1949, Newfoundland was divided over its institutional future, a debate which was narrowed down to two options: Confederation with Canada or responsible government (independence). Joey Smallwood, a Protestant radio personality, orchestrated a successful campaign in favour of Confederation which notably included influencing the powerful Orange Order into instructing its members to vote for Confederation because the Catholics were against. Catholics on the Avalon Peninsula had indeed opposed confederation in the first inconclusive 1948 referendum, fearing for the future of their religious schools. Finally, Smallwood and Confederation beat responsible government and the Avalon’s Irish Catholics 52-48.

Joey Smallwood went on to organize the Liberal Party (because the federal Liberals had been pro-Confederation), which dominated provincial politics until Smallwood became too old and authoritarian in 1972. Smallwood’s tenure was marked by various megaprojects (the Churchill Falls dam) and huge amounts of social spending, which made the Liberals popular across (Protestant) rural Newfoundland. The Liberals established themselves as the party of Protestant ‘mainland’ Newfoundland, while the Conservatives established themselves as the dominant party on the Avalon Peninsula and in St. John’s, two heavily Irish Catholic areas. The sectarian divide remains relatively important in Newfoundland politics to this day. Ironically, this religious divide is the reverse of the old religious divide in the rest of Canada, where Catholics are more likely to be Liberal and vice-versa. Voting patterns in Newfoundland are not influenced as much by sectarianism today as by the permanency of ancestral (‘genepool’) voting patterns, especially in rural Newfoundland. This has made it particularly difficult for third parties, such as the NDP, to emerge.

Smallwood’s magic wore off by the late 60s, and after a tied election in 1971, the PCs ended Liberal domination of Newfoundland in 1972 with Frank Moores’ landslide victory over the Liberals, now rid of Smallwood who would eventually form a splinter party (Liberal Reform) in 1975. Brian Peckford succeeded Moores in 1979 and stayed in office until 1989, but his successor Thomas Rideout was defeated by Clyde Wells’ Liberals in 1989. The Liberals, first under Wells (of Meech-fame) then under Brian Tobin and Roger Grimes, held office until 2003. In 2003, they were kicked out of office by a decisive margin (34 seats to 12) by Danny Williams’ PCs.

Newfoundland has historically been a poor province. The island’s dependence on fishing and the declining stocks of cod has, in the past, made it one of Canada’s top “have not” provinces, that is, fiscally dependent on equalization payments from Ottawa. However, the discovery of offshore oil and gas reserves and the progressive exploitation starting in the late 1980s have boosted Newfoundland’s economy. In recent years, Newfoundland’s offshore oil and gas sector has boosted it – an historic feat – into the ranks of the “have” provinces. Onshore natural resources are a provincial jurisdiction in Canada (Alberta’s oil sands, for example), but offshore natural resources are a federal jurisdiction. This has led to major battles between provinces such as Newfoundland and Ottawa over the control, taxation and exploitation of natural resources and at the heart of the Atlantic Accords in the 1980s and in 2005. Provincial Liberal governments crossed swords with federal Liberals on the issue when they were in government. Danny Williams did the same in 2004 with the Paul Martin Liberals, and finally got what he wanted after having removed all Canadian flags from government offices. In 2008, Danny Williams, although a Conservative, entered into a very bad spat with Stephen Harper after Harper reneged on a promise to exclude non-renewable energy sources from the equalization formula, which led Williams to call Harper a ‘fraud’. The spat was so bad that Williams led a very successful ‘Anything but Conservative’ (ABC) campaign in the 2008 federal election. Since then, however, relations between Newfoundland PCs and Harper Conservatives have gradually been patched up. Dunderdale endorsed Harper in 2011.

Danny Williams’ powerful advocacy of Newfoundland interests against both Liberal and Conservative governments in Ottawa, alongside very lucrative new deals opening up new offshore oil sites made him very popular. In 2007, Williams’ PCs won nearly 70% of the vote and 44 out of 48 seats. He maintained astronomical approval ratings (75-90%) until his retirement, which came as a surprise to most in December 2010. He was replaced by Deputy Premier Kathy Dunderdale, who has managed to become her own self and walk out of Danny’s shadows. She remains very popular, buoyed by a still-booming economy and an enviable fiscal balance sheet. In contrast, the Liberals, who held only 4 seats in the House of Assembly at dissolution, have struggled with leadership since 2003. Their leader lost his seat in 2007, and Yvonne Jones, who succeeded him after the 2007 defeat, resigned the leadership in August blaming health issues. She was replaced by former MHA and cabinet minister Kevin Aylward. The NDP has been led by Lorraine Michael since 2006. Smallwood’s quasi-socialist rhetoric and policies obviously prevented the party’s growth in the early years, and the permanency of tribal/ancestral voting patterns have also checked the rise of the NDP in most of Newfoundland. It has never won over 14% or 2 seats provincially, though the federal NDP did very well in St. John’s both in 2008 and 2011.

Results were as follows. Change is on dissolution.

PC 56.09% (-13.5%) winning 37 seats (-6)
Liberal 19.07% (-2.62%) winning 6 seats (+2)
NDP 24.64% (+16.15%) winning 5 seats (+4)
Others 0.19% (-0.04%)

The PCs were, unsurprisingly, reelected with another huge though not as huge majority. The economy is booming, and the books are balanced. There have been a few issues over hospital closures and road conditions in rural areas, but by and large most voters are still happy with the PCs. The interesting battle throughout the campaign and election night was the race for opposition. The Liberals, with all their leadership troubles and their last-minute change in leadership back in August gradually collapsed in the polls, at the benefit of the NDP which surged to historic highs.

The Liberals ended up placing third, with 19% and slumping to another historic low in terms of popular vote, but they actually managed a net gain of 2 seats and hold on by the skin of their teeth to official opposition. The Liberals ran a very rural-oriented campaign, aiming to present themselves as the rural alternative to rural Newfoundlanders who were unhappy with PC policy over roads or hospitals. Unsurprisingly, that rural stuff didn’t work in St. John’s and in fact most of the Avalon Peninsula: the Liberals, who had already polled a poor third in St. John’s in 2007 did terribly there this year. Terribly is a bit of understatement, in fact, considering the Liberals won all of 2-7% in most of the capital’s ridings. They also placed third on most of the Avalon and also in most of rural eastern Newfoundland. For some reason, they had a big upswing in support in western Newfoundland, where they gained three seats (and lost one). Kevin Aylward was unsuccessful in St. George’s-Stephenville East against a PC incumbent, losing by over 15% (49-33). But the Liberals gained the Bay of Islands, St. Barbe and the Humber Valley (the latter riding, won by 68 votes over the PCs, was crucial in giving the Liberals the official opposition). These are traditionally ancestrally Liberal areas, but why the Liberal Party’s rural message worked there and not as much on the rest of mainland Newfoundland is anybody’s guess. The Liberals also gained Torngat Mountains, a huge and sparsely populated riding in northern Labrador, apparently thanks to a candidate who visited every part of it by speedboat.

The NDP did extremely well, winning a record-high 24.6% and 5 seats. However, compared to expectations and the last polls, it under-performed slightly and its failure to overtake the Liberals for official opposition was a real heartbreaker for the NDP. Its surge was concentrated, mainly, in St. John’s where it holds 4 of its 5 seats. It had only one seat in St. John’s, the long-time NDP stronghold of Signal Hill-Quidi Vidi held by NDP leader Lorraine Michael and before that by current federal NDP MP Jack Harris. The NDP’s success in the 2008 and 2011 federal elections was concentrated in St. John’s, and many suspected the same for the NDP’s provincial surge. The problem with the NDP and St. John’s is that most of the city’s ridings were/are PC strongholds (as is most of the Avalon, where the NDP also did well), so even if the party does very well it still faces an uphill battle to topple PC incumbents. This is a bit what happened this year, though the NDP did take three Tory-held seats. The party’s problem is that it continued to fare relatively poorly in rural mainland Newfoundland, where they have yet to topple the Liberals as the main non-PC party. The excessive concentration of the NDP’s support on the Avalon contributed in large part to the NDP’s failure to win official opposition, as its failure to breakthrough outside there (the Liberals placed second outside the Avalon and the capital) meant it couldn’t win official opposition. Another pretty disappointing showing was in Labrador West, which was last won by the NDP in 2003 and thought to be one of the NDP’s certain gains. It might have something to do with how the last NDP MHA ended up: in jail for fraud. The NDP had lost by only 354 votes in 2007, this year they lost to the PCs by 663 votes. The NDP came closer in Lake Melville (50-35 for the PCs), which is the focal point of the controversial Muskrat Falls deal which the NDP opposed. Still, there are good signs for the NDP too in mainland Newfoundland. One of the big shockers was The Straits-White Bay North where the NDP’s Christopher Mitchelmore defeated Liberal incumbent Marshall Dean in a three-way race in a riding, ancestrally Liberal, which had been picked up by the Liberals in a 2009 by-election. Certainly no one expected the NDP to win that seat. The NDP had targeted and eventually came within 4o votes in the PC-held seat of Burin-Placentia West. The NDP has a small and older base in Burin, and their candidate was the deputy mayor of the major city in the riding.

The Liberals holding on to official opposition will make rebuilding their easier, given the advantages being the official opposition gives. Their weakness in St. John’s is, of course, a major roadblock. The NDP also needs to improve their standings outside of the Avalon, where their vote increase this year was far less impressive.

Yukon 2011

Yukon is the smallest territory by land area and the second least populated jurisdiction in Canada after Nunavut. Yukon, most significantly, is the only territory to have partisan politics instead of non-partisan consensus government. The Yukon has been governed since May 2011 by Darrell Pasloski of the Yukon Party, who succeeded Dennis Fentie of the Yukon Party. Fentie had been in office since 2002.

The Yukon differs from the other two territories in a number of ways. The Klondike of the late 19th century led to an influx of white European (most often British) settlers, which the current-day NWT did not have. To this day, the Yukon is significantly more European in its ancestry than the other two territories which both have a majority of Natives or Inuits. Only 25% of the Yukon’s population is of aboriginal ancestry, while a bit over 50% claim some sort of British ancestry (single or multiple response, 2006 Census). Whitehorse, the capital, is more easily accessible from the south than Yellowknife, though it has a smaller population than Yellowknife.

Yukon adopted partisan politics in 1978, and since then Tories, Dippers and Grits have alternated in and out of office and official opposition. The PCs won the first two elections, until they were defeated by the NDP’s Tony Penikett in 1985. The PCs, for reasons not unconnected to Brian Mulroney’s unpopularity federally, renamed themselves as the ‘Yukon Party’ in 1992. The Yukon Party, led by John Ostashek, won the 1992 elections but unpopular fiscal policies contributed to their defeat by the NDP in 1996. However, by 2000, the NDP were defeated by the Liberals, whose majority quickly collapsed into a minority after 3 defections and forced an early election in 2002. The Yukon Party, led by Dennis Fentie, defeated the Liberals, who won only 1 seat, in the 2002 election. Fentie was reelected with a majority in 2006, and was replaced by Pasloski in May of this year. Pasloski has never held elected office before, and his only electoral outing was when he ran for the federal Tories in 2008. Prior to that he was apparently the owner of a few Shopper’s Drug Mart pharmacies.

Yukon politics is much more about the person than the party. Ridings are small and isolated, with roughly 700-1000 votes cast in each, so what logically what matters much more than the party is the candidate. Party lines, moreover, are extremely loose: floor-crossing is very common. Former Premier Dennis Fentie was a member of the NDP until 2002, and MLAs regularly leave their parties to sit on the other side or as independents. Party politics are thus pretty unstable: the Liberals have ranged between 7.6% and 43% support since 1978, the NDP has gotten between 20% and 45% and the Yukon Party between 24% and 40.5% since 1992.

Results are as follows, standings compared to the 2006 election. One extra seat was added this year.

Yukon Party 40.45% (-0.15%) winning 11 seats (+1)
NDP 32.56% (+8.96%) winning 6 seats (+3)
Liberal 25.33% (-9.4%) winning 2 seats (-3)
Others (Ind, Green, FNP) 1.66% (+0.56%) winning 0 seats (nc)

Helped by a booming economy, the Yukon Party was reelected with another majority. Yukon’s resource-based economy is doing really well, as is much of northern Canada’s economy. It has been criticized for its poor record on environmental issues, where it has shied away from protecting Yukon’s natural beauty, but the economy trumps all other issues. The NDP, on the other hand, took much of the 2006 Liberal vote and surged into a strong second with 32.6% and 6 seats while the Liberals won only 25.3% and 2 seats. The Liberals suffered from a vote which was a bit too homogeneous: they had a lot of strong seconds or thirds but ended up only winning two seats. Liberal leader Arthur Mitchell lost Copperbelt North to the Yukon Party by a 10% margin. The Liberals won two ridings, including sparsely populated Vuntut Gwitchin (predominantly Native) in the far north, where only 145 votes were cast altogether. The Yukon Party performed best in southern Yukon, which is traditionally the most conservative region of the territory.

Interestingly, unlike in 2006, there were a lot of incumbents defeated. The NDP lost no seats, but the Yukon Party and especially the Liberals had a lot of their incumbents defeated. The Liberals even managed to defeat a YK Party incumbent (and minister of economic development) in Klondike, and two other cabinet ministers also went down to defeat against the NDP. The NDP’s new leader, Liz Hanson, easily held her seat of Whitehorse Centre which she had won in a 2010 by-election (after the death of the NDP incumbent). She won 63.2% of the vote.

Madeira (Portugal) 2011

Madeira is a Portuguese archipelago which is 400km north of Tenerife (Canary Islands) and nearly 1000km southwest of Lisbon. The island of Madeira is the most important island in the archipelago, which also includes other smaller islands. Madeira is of volcanic origin and its terrain is rugged, marked by steep valleys and a low-lying coastal plain around the capital, Funchal. Madeira is one of the two autonomous regions of Portugal, alongside the Azores. The Madeiran economy is nowadays very much reliant on tourism, services and also Madeiran wine. It is the second wealthiest region in Portugal after Lisbon.

One name has dominated Madeiran politics since 1978: Alberto João Jardim. Jardim, one of Portugal’s most controversial politicians, has been President of the Regional Government since 1978. Although one of the big ‘barons’ of the right-wing Social Democratic Party (PSD), he is very much a populist. He has been a fiery advocate of Madeiran interests, and has not shied away from making controversial statements or from having a particularly abrasive personality. His policies have been wildly popular in Madeira, which is the PSD stronghold. Jardim’s PSD has always had an absolute majority in the regional legislature, and has between 53% and 66% of the vote since the first regional election in 1976. In the last election, a snap election called by Jardim in 2007, his PSD’s unchecked declined since 1988 was dramatically halted as he was rewarded by islanders for his confrontation with the Socialist government in Lisbon. He won 64% against 15.4% for the Socialists (PS).

We also know that he most certainly is not a thrifty spender: the PSD government of the island has been supported artificially by a huge public debt and wild spending. Not shocking considering Alberto João Jardim’s style of abrasive regionalist right-populism or the importance of the tourism sector to Madeira. But with Portugal’s economic situation still in the ditch, constant struggles with the IMF-EU over more bailout money and a deficit/public debt which is becoming ever bigger, the issue of Madeira’s public debt has become a top political issue in Portugal. It has become a source of embarassment for the Prime Minister, the PSD’s Pedro Passos Coelho. The Madeiran situation became even more important when it was revealed that the Madeiran government had “forgotten” to report a good part of its deficit and overall public debt. Alberto João Jardim originally talked about a “small hole” of €5 billion, but the Finance Ministry has instead found out that the island’s debt was rather €6.3 billion or 123% of the regional GDP. In 2010, the regional government had failed to report €975 million in debt (€68.4 in 2009 and €174.7 in 2008). The election campaign in Madeira was very much dominated by the issue of the regional debt and the government’s failure to report parts of it.

PSD 48.56% (-15.68%) winning 25 seats (-8)
CDS-PP 17.63% (+12.29%) winning 9 seats (+7)
PS 11.5% (-3.92%) winning 6 seats (-1)
PTP 6.86% (+6.86%) winning 3 seats (+3)
CDU 3.76% (-1.68%) winning 1 seat (-1)
PND 3.27% (+1.19%) winning 1 seat (nc)
PAN 2.13% (+2.13%) winning 1 seat (+1)
MPT 1.93% (-0.33%) winning 1 seat (nc)
BE 1.7% (-1.28%) winning 0 seats (-1)

Alberto João Jardim’s PSD won its tenth straight majority, but it did so with less than 50% of the votes (48.6%) and the PSD’s worst showing (by far) in a Madeiran regional election. The issue of the debt and especially the government’s failure to report parts of it undoubtedly had a very negative effect on Alberto João Jardim’s PSD. However, Madeira being Madeira and the local PSD being a true political machine like no other with an old-style populist cacique like no other, it was obviously not enough to defeat (!) Alberto João Jardim. As an example of the PSD’s institutional power in Madeira, there was a scandal on election day over the PSD using cars belonging to the state’s electricity company to bus voters to the polls. The main benefactor of the PSD’s collapse by nearly 16% was the right-wing CDS-PP, which is in opposition in Funchal but the PSD’s junior partner in Lisbon. The CDS-PP, which is economically liberal, won an historic second place ahead of the PS and became the main distant opposition force to the PSD.

On the left, the PS did poorly and also won its worst result in a Madeiran regional election. Considering it had done awfully in 2007, that’s quite an achievement, especially for an opposition party so vocal about Alberto João Jardim’s little accounting problems. The PS nationally seems to be in a tough phase after its June 5. The major benefactor of the PS’ losses (as well as those of the far-left Communists and BE) was a new left-wing party, the Portuguese Workers Party (PTP). The PTP’s main asset in Madeira seems to be the island’s second most-famous politician, José Manuel Coelho who was until recently affiliated with the right-wing PND (and ran as the PND’s presidential candidate in January). Coelho is the first local weapon to use the same weapon as Jardim: populism. He has emerged as an equally as fiery populist opponent of Jardim’s PSD regime, which he accuses of restricting democracy on the island and is, overall, an equally as crazy and erratic populist firebrand as the old Jardim. He gained notoriety as a PND deputy when he unfurled a Nazi flag in the regional legislature to symbolize his opinion of the PSD, which got him thrown out of the legislature (and blocked from re-entering) and into national headlines. In his January presidential candidacy, Coelho won 39% of the vote in Madeira (and 4.5% nationally). In the June elections, heading the PTP’s slate, he won only 2.13%. Coelho might be in a position, with the local PTP apparently being his personal vehicle, to become the main figure of opposition to Jardim using Jardim’s populism against him.

The PND, Coelho’s former party, did well, likely right-wing voters from the PSD voting for the right-wing PND. The animal rights-green PAN won one seat (it had almost won one seat in Lisbon back in the June elections), and the right-wing green MPT held its seat. The left-wing BE lost its seat.


Posted on October 15, 2011, in Canada, Madeira, Newfoundland and Labrador, Portugal, Regional and local elections, Yukon. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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