Voters in Newfoundland and Labrador have trimmed the Progressive Conservative majority and given the New Democrats their long-awaited breakthrough.
Tuesday’s election also made Kathy Dunderdale the first woman to lead a party to electoral victory in the province, with the Tories taking 37 of 48 seats, down from 43.
“Thank you for seeing and believing in our vision of a strong and prosperous Newfoundland and Labrador,” she told supporters after the results came in.
“As I stand here tonight, I can’t help but wonder what my grandmother and great-grandmother would think. In 1925, a woman could not even vote in Newfoundland and Labrador.”
The New Democrats and Liberals split the remaining seats in the first election after the Danny Williams era.
The result is a disappointment for the struggling Liberals, who added only two seats to the four they held already. Liberal Leader Kevin Aylward was crushed by incumbent Tory cabinet minister Joan Burke. But, with six seats, the party just barely retained Official Opposition status.
The NDP was exulting, meanwhile, in its five seats. The result is a huge improvement for the party, which took only one in 2007.
Even with an emboldened NDP, a large majority won under her leadership puts Ms. Dunderdale firmly in the driver’s seat.
“She has an awful lot of legitimacy she didn’t have before,” said Alex Marland, an assistance professor of political science at Memorial University of Newfoundland in St. John’s. “Her power base is solidified. A lot of the loyalty to Danny Williams will have shifted to Kathy Dunderdale.”
Ms. Dunderdale was the chosen successor of Mr. Williams, serving first as interim premier and then deciding to run for the formal leadership. She was acclaimed, but her government has become the target of occasional barbs from the popular former premier, who will not explain the source of his discontent.
She has tried to deflect the criticism and pledged a less combative approach generally to politics. But she shows her steel when talking about hydro development or the need to invest wisely in rural areas.
They will have the luxury of governing while the once-mighty Liberals focus on staying relevant.
“If I was the Liberals ... I wouldn't be too comfortable,” said Stephen Tomblin, professor of political-science at MUN. “They'll have to reinvent themselves.”
The NDP, meanwhile, will be looking to broaden its appeal after its best result yet in the province. The party can be expected to look beyond its traditional urban base, where it won most of its seats, and seek ways to tap into the populist tradition of rural Newfoundland and Labrador.
The government’s challenges for this term are numerous.
The debt is projected to hit $8.7-billion and it faces a controversy over a proposal to develop hydro potential at Muskrat Falls in Labrador. Jobs remain a perennial concern, especially in rural areas, and many outside the capital feel left behind by the oil-based prosperity.
Ms. Dunderdale is the daughter of a fisherman. She was a social worker and was a Burin town councillor before entering provincial politics. She has served in key ministries such as natural resources and innovation, trade and rural development.
A convert to running, Ms. Dunderdale speaks proudly of having dropped nearly 100 pounds. She is diligent about carving out time for early morning runs, outings on which she leaves her mobile phone behind.
The running would be particularly important during the pressure-cooker of the campaign, she acknowledged in an interview shortly the writ was dropped. And during the short race she did stay largely out of trouble – classic front-runner’s tactics – while showing her willingness to mix it up with the occasional protesters who greeted her on the hustings.