Poll shows Liberals likely to defeat Penashue in Labrador by-election

OTTAWA — The Globe and Mail

Peter Penashue speaks during Question Period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa Dec. 15, 2011. (CHRIS WATTIE/REUTERS)

Peter Penashue may have gotten the jump on his rivals in the hope of reclaiming his seat in the federal riding of Labrador but a new poll suggests the Liberals are so far ahead, they are likely unstoppable.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his Conservatives have expressed much faith in Mr. Penashue, a cabinet minister who resigned his seat last month after admitting his campaign accepted tens of thousands of dollars in ineligible donations in the 2011 election.

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But a poll by Forum Research Inc. that was conducted in Labrador between March 30 and April 2 suggests that nearly six in 10 voters are prepared to support Yvonne Jones, a member of the Newfoundland and Labrador legislature who is running for the Liberals.

Of the survey’s 274 respondents, 57 per cent said they would vote for Ms. Jones while just 20 per cent said they favour Mr. Penashue and 21 per cent said they would back NDP candidate Harry Borlase.

The Green Party is not fielding a candidate in the Labrador by-election because Leader Elizabeth May says she does not want to pull support away from the Liberals whose 2011 candidate, incumbent MP Todd Russell, lost by just 79 votes to Mr. Penashue.

“It really shows that, in a riding like this that comes and goes with the natural trend, that the Liberals have got a good lead there,” Forum Research president Lorne Bozinoff said in a telephone interview. “And it reinforces the strength that the Liberals have started to show in the last few months.”

The Forum poll was based on an interactive voice-response telephone survey. Although the number of participants was small, so is the riding, which has a population of just over 26,000 people. A sample of 274 people is expected to reflect the broader opinions of Labrador voters within six percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

Mr. Harper has repeatedly stressed that the government has made historic investments in the riding since Mr. Penashue won and was named minister of intergovernmental affairs. The Prime Minister must announce a by-election date by Sept. 14.

“I predict it will be a while before they call that by-election because it looks like a certain defeat for the Tories,” said Dr. Bozinoff. “So I think they are going to wait the maximum amount of time.”

Mr. Penashue stepped down 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.

With the help of the Conservative Party, Mr. Penashue repaid $26,850 to the government last fall and made another payment of $18,710 on March 4, 10 days before he resigned.

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