Category Archives: Newfoundland and Labrador

Guest Post: Labrador (Canada) by-election 2013

Kyle Hutton is an avid reader of World Elections, and a Liberal blogger from Ontario, who runs a partisan blog at Blunt Objects, as well as a blog looking at historical elections in Canada at Canadian Psephos. You can follow him on Twitter here.

A federal by-election was held in Labrador, Newfoundland and Labrador (also known as the “Big Land”) on May 13th, 2013, following the resignation of that riding’s Conservative MP Peter Penashue, who won the seat from the Liberals in a close race in 2011’s federal election.


Before we get into why the by-election was called, we must first understand some of the history and demographics that make up the Big Land.

Labrador is the mainland portion of the province of Newfoundland and Labrador, taking up the eastern seaboard of the huge Labrador Peninsula, the large span of land that covers northern Quebec and Labrador, from the Hudson Bay to the Atlantic Ocean. It is sparsely populated, with no more than 30,000 permanent residents, and only two towns of significant size (Happy Valley-Goose Bay and Labrador City, both between 7,000-8,000 residents). Despite the small population, there is extensive industry in Labrador, ranging from large-scale iron-ore mining and hydro-electric projects in the west, to extensive logging and fisheries in the east. There is also a Canadian Forces air base located in Happy Valley-Goose Bay, though its importance to the military has declined significantly since its heyday in the 1980’s and 1990’s, when it served as a training base for several European air forces. Though 5-Wing Goose Bay and Search & Rescue services still use the base, Canadian Forces personnel there number under 100.

While Labrador is a mostly Anglophone and dominated by whites (who make up just over 62% of the population), there exists a large Aboriginal population that numbers around 38% according to the 2006 Census. Around 15% of Aboriginals lay claim to Inuit ancestry, while the rest are either Métis (15%) or undefined First Nations (7%). The Innu Nation is probably the largest and most well-known of the First Nations groups, representing many of the First Peoples communities in northern Quebec and Labrador (Nitassinan, or “Our Land”). Most of their members live in central Labrador, near Happy Valley-Goose Bay, though are spread throughout the district.

The Inuit of Labrador are somewhat split into two groups. The first live in the north of Labrador, in an area recognized by the Canadian and Newfoundland governments as an autonomous area known as “Nunatsiavut,” governed by their own council and somewhat similar to what Nunavut would have been like had it not become its own territory. The major settlement in Nunatsiavut is Nain, which numbers just under 2,000 people, though the claimed regions go as far south as Rigolet, which is at the mouth of Hamilton Inlet (that which feeds Lake Melville, the large basin in the middle of Labrador).

The second group of Inuit are actually a Métis group with heavy roots in Inuit culture, known as the NunatuKavummiut. Unlike their cousins in Nunatsiavut, however, their claimed territory of NunatuKavut, which takes up most of southeastern Labrador from Lake Melville to the coast, is unrecognized by either the federal or provincial government. Though they have a council and a President (led by former MP Todd Russell), they do not enjoy the same status as the northern Inuit. The largest town dominated by NunatuKavummiut is Cartwright, which has under 1,000 residents.

Labrador joined in Confederation in 1949 as a part of the province of Newfoundland, previous to which it had been a somewhat neglected northern district in a semi-independent British Dominion. Like the rest of the province, both the MHAs and MPs elected from Labrador for the first couple of decades after ‘49 were Liberals. This was mostly due to the phenomenon known as Joey Smallwood, who had led the province into Confederation and dominated its politics for years, though federal Liberals also heaped federal money on the region during their terms in power. Labrador was represented by Liberals continuously since 1949 to 2011, except for the brief stint of Ambrose Peddle between 1968-1972. In 1988, Labrador was molded into its own district despite being the least populated riding in Canada, which it remains to this day with only 27,000 residents, falling underneath the “distinct region” clause of Elections Canada’s redistribution rules.

2011 Election

Set amongst the background of the Liberal collapse, NDP rise, and Conservative majority built elsewhere in the country, Newfoundland and Labrador stuck out like something of a sore thumb on any map, returning four Liberal MPs from Central Newfoundland, two New Democrats from St. John’s, and of course, Peter Penashue in Labrador. Much of the reason for the lack of major Conservative momentum in the province was due to how damaged the Harper government had been damaged by former Premier Danny Williams’ – himself a Conservative – “Anything But Conservative” campaign, which encouraged voters in 2008’s federal election to reject the party for reneging on equalization payments to Newfoundland. The Conservatives, previously the main challengers to the Liberals in the province, dropped like a stone to only 16% support province-wide. The effects were pretty clearly felt in Labrador, where the Conservatives dropped from just under 40% in 2006 to 8% in 2008. Todd Russell, the Liberal MP since 2005, won with a whopping 70% support, though mostly on the back of low turnout (38.6%, or just 7,787 voters).

Enter in Peter Penashue, the former Grand Chief of the Innu Nation for a dozen years between the 1990’s and early 2000’s, as well as holder of various other leadership roles. The recruitment of Penashue by the Conservatives was a major coup, representing a major voting bloc in the riding and having an extremely high profile even amongst non-Innu. He had a profile equal to that of Russell’s, plus the backing of a Conservative establishment really pining for a win in the province. As we’ll see in a minute, he may have had too much backing for Elections Canada’s liking.


Results of the 2011 federal election in Labrador by polling station (source: Canadian Election Atlas)

On May 2nd, Penashue battled in a tight race for the riding with Russell, with it being called for the latter prematurely by some media until they saw they had a race on their hands. In the end, Penashue won with a mere 79 votes, or roughly 1.7%, over Russell. Much of his win came from voters in Lake Melville region (basically, Central Labrador), where much of the Innu population lives, as well as support from the northern Inuit communities. He won 88% in the two Innu-dominated polls, and his support in those polls provided him with his margin of victory. Russell’s support ballooned in NunatuKavut polls, but came in second (or third) everywhere else. Finally, the NDP dominated in Labrador West – basically around Labrador City and Wabush (iron ore mining is important in the area), the NDP’s traditional base of support both provincially and federally.

Penashue’s Resignation and Re-Candidacy

Peter Penashue was named Intergovernmental Affairs Minister in the majority cabinet of Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s governing Conseratives, as well as being Newfoundland and Labrador’s representative in the government (by virtue of being the only Conservative from the province!). However, he ran into trouble following revelations that his 2011 campaign had taken nearly $28,000 in illegal campaign donations, usually in the form of free airplane trips (you need a plane to cover Labrador’s large and sparsely populated interior), as well as a $5,500 donation from a local construction company. This money was on top of roughly $44,000 that the Conservative Party had given Penashue’s campaign, as well as a loan from a local Innu business, run by his brother-in-law, interest-free, which is illegal under Canadian law.

Despite paying back Elections Canada for the illegal donations (and then some), as well as laying the blame at the feet of his rookie campaign manager in 2011, Penashue resigned from cabinet and his seat on March 14th. In a somewhat different twist, he also announced his candidacy for the by-election as a Conservative, hoping for redemption from Labrador’s electorate.

Penashue faced no opposition from the Conservative establishment in either Ottawa or Labrador, with Prime Minister Harper even calling the by-election rather quickly than in the past (for example, the last by-elections in Calgary Centre, Durham, and Victoria weren’t held until three months after the last resignation). The date was set for May 13th, a day before the previously-announced date of the general election in British Columbia, causing some speculation that Harper was hoping to drown out a possible loss in Labrador to the expected NDP victory on the other side of the country.

Penashue, despite the issues surrounding his candidacy, was a fairly obvious choice for the Conservatives. He remains the highest profile federal Conservative in the Big Land, if not in Newfoundland and Labrador as a whole. Even if the Conservatives wanted someone else, they would ne unable to match Penashue’s popularity.

Opposition Candidates

The main challengers to Penashue were expected to be the Liberals, based mostly upon the race back in 2011. The New Democratic Party, while posting an impressive 19.8% and 2,120 votes in that election, were not seen as a threat unless they ran a star candidate, or the vote split in the riding in a big way. The Greens, for their part, decided not to run a candidate in order to avoid “splitting the progressive vote” (they managed 1.3% in 2011), while going so far as to ask the NDP not to run a candidate and give the Liberals a free pass. Suffice to say, the NDP rejected this proposal.

The race also came at an opportune time for the Liberals, who had recently concluded a leadership race just the month before. Papineau MP Justin Trudeau, the son of former Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau, had won a resounding victory in that race (including over 90% support from Liberals in Labrador). Many in the media, rightly or wrongly, said the Labrador by-election would be Trudeau’s first big “test” as leader.

Todd Russell, the former MP and re-elected President of NunatuKavut, was originally expected to run but was pre-empted by the extremely popular Cartwright-L’Anse au Clair MHA Yvonne Jones, which apparently shut down Russell’s hypothetical run (he was none too happy about it, though he didn’t raise too much of a stink as the campaign went underway). Jones, whose provincial district covers southeastern Labrador and the majority of NunatuKavut, was formerly the leader of the provincial Liberals before stepping down to undergo successful treatment for breast cancer. She was quickly acclaimed as the candidate, resigned her seat in the House of Assembly, and started campaigning early. Labrador received visits from both Interim Leader Bob Rae, and then permanent leader Trudeau, as well as a slew of Liberal MPs and personalities. In other words, the Liberals really wanted this riding back, seeing it as the first big step towards rebuilding the party.

The NDP for their part had a contested nomination, with Harry Borlase, an analyst for an environmental research and development agency based out of St. John’s, coming out on top. Borlase was born and raised in Labrador, though some sources I’ve seen said that he lives in St. John’s (who knows). Either way, he was far from the big name that the NDP probably wanted to elect, which is odd considering they have a strong base in Labrador West, even winning those communities in 2011. NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair made a high-profile visit to the riding – to Labrador West, specifically – in the early stages of the campaign. The provincial NDP also have big momentum, with the most recent poll placing them first in the province, ahead of the governing Conservatives. The extremely popular provincial NDP Leader Lorraine Michael, however, did not pay a visit to Labrador for this campaign.

The Libertarians also nominated Norman Andrews, a local blogger (though he barely posts) and advocate for Labrador power for Labradorians… I think. Not really sure what he was about.


Aside from the ethics issues with Penashue’s 2011 campaign and resignation, the big questions for Labrador these days surrounds the Lower Churchill hydro-electricity projection, a series of proposed generating stations being built along the Churchill River that will put an estimated 16.7 Terawatts into the system per year. The project is supported by the provincial government and being built by energy giants Nalcor and Emera, with investments worth billions of dollars in order to route that power across the Straight to Newfoundland itself (then to Nova Scotia), rather than through Québec which has had a bad habit of ripping off Newfoundland and Labrador in the past.

The big contention currently is Phase I, located at Muskrat Falls just outside of Happy Valley-Goose Bay, is expected to be a huge job provider for the community (possibly totalling $1.9-billion in revenue), though at the same time there are concerns from residents of being “swamped” by the project, the thousands of new workers and mouths to feed, and the potential for the status-quo to be upset in their usually-calm community. There are also a whole slew of concerns about what effect Phase I will have on the environment, and protests from NunatuKavut members on the provincial government’s refusal to negotiate with them on the pace of, and revenues from, development. At one point near the start of the campaign, Todd Russell and other members protesting on the road to Muskrat Falls were arrested by the RCMP for disruption of the peace.

This all being said, all three major party candidates held similar positions in favour of Muskrat Falls, though drilling down on details such as getting more local workers or bringing in the NunatuKavut into talks, you see some slight discrepancies.

Issues also began to spring up in regards to Labrador’s representation in Ottawa. Penashue came out and basically said that without a federal Conservative representative like him, Labrador would be at the mercy of spending cuts – including for 5-Wing Goose Bay, Search & Rescue, and so on. At one point, Penashue came out and said that he had held up funding for some project in Newfoundland to get funding to complete the Trans-Labrador Highway, which is apparently gravel in some parts. Essentially, the question Penashue tried to build a campaign issue around was “who will get us the most pork?”

Finally, though not limited to Labrador alone, is the current unpopularity of the Conservative government. While not doing terribly in recent polls, the Conservatives have had to deal with several problems since the beginning of their majority term in 2011. The biggest to affect Labrador are the spending cuts by the government, which has resulted in the shutdown of Search & Rescue centres on the Atlantic Coast, vital to many Labradorian’s safety; as well as the government’s targeting of seasonal workers who use EI to supplement their income in the off-season, which affects thousands of residents. The phenomenon of Justin Trudeau may also have played a factor, as the new Liberal Leader has proven exceptionally popular according to polls – but as British Columbia showed us, maybe we need to take a grain of salt with polling these days.

The Result

Yvonne Jones (Liberal) 48.2% (+9.1%)
Peter Penashue (Conservative) 32.5% (-7.3%)
Harry Borlase (NDP) 18.8% (-1.0%)
Norman Andrews (Libertarian): 0.4%

Turnout was 59.5%, up over 6% from the 2011 federal election, and the best turnout since at least 2004, and the second-highest number of votes (about 12,000) since the riding was created in 1988.

Jones won with an easy 16-point margin, or nearly 2,000 votes over Penashue, with voters in Labrador turfing their cabinet minister in favour of a member of the third party. The turnout as well probably says more than the result does, as voters were clearly engaged in this race, and seemingly were more than happy to vote for the Liberals. While it is hard to say where the boost in turnout went to, it is interesting to note that Jones gained nearly 1,600 votes over Russell’s 2011 result, while Penashue only lost 334 votes.

It is hard to say where Penashue lost this race, though the entire reason for the by-election would certainly be enough for most voters. While Penashue did do the honourable thing in paying back the money to Elections Canada, as well as resigning in order to redeem himself, voters may not have bought his story and made him an example of what happens when you don’t keep an eye on your campaign expenses. Alternatively, it is possible that the unpopularity of the federal Conservatives could have made his campaign, no matter how good it was, dead-on-arrival.

However, the result is not as bad as some earlier polls suggested, including Penashue ending up third behind Borlase, so the Conservatives can rest easy knowing that they did not completely blow it.

For the NDP, the campaign result is, at best, “OK.” They lost some ground but gained about 100 new voters with their candidate Borlase, and likely maintained strong support in Labrador West, overall not doing terribly and not getting their vote squeezed into oblivion. However, failing to make a big impact in Labrador is an issue, given that of the five by-elections held since 2011, the NDP have fallen behind their previous totals in all but one (Durham). The Official Opposition, especially one the size of the NDP, should in theory be doing better than they have so far.

Finally, much can be said about Yvonne Jones’ campaign and personal popularity, and the fact that this is a traditionally Liberal riding. Though Penashue tried to take Jones down a notch with accusations that she held back from repaying expenses to the House of Assembly (something which Jones, who was on the board to review the rules surrounding expenses, adamantly denied), Jones did her best to keep the focus on Penashue and the Conservatives, on the ethics issues and on her previous record as a strong representative for Labrador in St. John’s. It is pretty clear that voters responded well to her campaign, and the spinsters in Justin Trudeau’s office are painting this as the first of many victories for the Liberals. Whether that is true remains to be seen.

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.