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Former cabinet minister Peter Penashue is pictured at a news conference in November, 2012. Prime Minister Stephen Harper has announced a by-election for the seat vacated by Mr. Penashue last month, after he acknowledged his campaign received ineligible donations in the 2011 general election. (Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press)
Former cabinet minister Peter Penashue is pictured at a news conference in November, 2012. Prime Minister Stephen Harper has announced a by-election for the seat vacated by Mr. Penashue last month, after he acknowledged his campaign received ineligible donations in the 2011 general election. (Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press)

Conservative ex-cabinet minister Penashue unlikely to win seat: poll Add to ...

It would take a “truly unexpected and exceptional” twist in the by-election campaign in Labrador for former Conservative cabinet minister Peter Penashue to retain his seat, a new poll suggests.

The survey, which was conducted between April 10 and 12 by Abacus Data for radio station VOCM, suggests that Liberal candidate Yvonne Jones, a former leader of the provincial Liberals in Newfoundland and Labrador, is well ahead of both Mr. Penashue and NDP candidate Harry Borlase.

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Ms. Jones had the support of 63 per cent of the decided poll respondents, compared to 20 per cent who said they would vote for Mr. Penashue and 17 per cent who said they favoured Mr. Borlase.

Mr. Penashue resigned from Parliament in March after after an Elections Canada investigation found his campaign accepted 28 illegal donations, including $18,710 from Provincial Airlines and $27,850 from other corporate donors. He has since repaid the money with the help of the Conservative party.

A by-election in his Labrador riding has been called for May 13 and Mr. Penashue is trying to convince voters that he is the best person for the job.

But his chances of returning to Ottawa as an MP “are pretty slim unless something spectacular happens between now and May 13,” said Abacus CEO David Coletto.

“He’s lost 41 per cent of those voters who voted Conservative in 2011 to the Liberals, and the Liberals have picked up over half of NDP supporters from last time,” said Mr. Colletto. “Either one of those would give the Liberals the advantage. The fact that they are both happening means you’re going to get a landslide.”

The live-interview telephone survey of 500 randomly selected eligible voters is expected to accurately reflect opinion in the riding within 4.3 percentage points 19 times in 20.

The results of the Abacus poll echo those of at least one other that has been conducted in labrador since the start of the by-election campaign.

“We’ve seen in the national polls that Liberal support is up in Atlantic Canada generally. It fits with that trend,” said Mr. Coletto. “You’ve also got a very popular, well-known local candidate in Yvonne Jones.”

The survey was conducted before Justin Trudeau was elected to lead the federal Liberals but there was lots of discussion about this that was playing out at the time, said Mr. Coletto.

“So you almost have a perfect storm of conditions that are beneficial to the Liberals and basically harmful to to both the Conservatives and the New Democrats,” he said.

Todd Russell, the Liberal who held the seat before Mr. Penashue, lost by just 79 votes two years ago.

The survey suggests that Mr. Penashue has little room to grow his support with 57 per cent of respondents saying they would not consider voting Conservative this time around. And, despite Conservative messages touting the investments that Mr. Penashue brought to Labrador, a majority of those taking part in the poll said they did not believe that to be the case.

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