Voters in Newfoundland and Labrador went to the polls Tuesday in the first election of the post-Danny Williams era.
Kathy Dunderdale, the hand-picked successor of Mr. Williams, enjoyed a position of strength as she campaigned to become the first woman elected to lead a government in the province. With a healthy Tory lead dating back years, the race was seen by many as a foregone conclusion.
The Liberals and New Democrats have lagged far back in popular support. The once-mighty Grits struggled to find candidates and the NDP, seeking to ride federal success to a greater provincial presence, would consider it a success to gain official opposition status.
Candidates have found it difficult to energize voters even though the race came amid heated debate in the province – which is struggling to bring down an $8.2-billion debt while addressing small-town poverty – on the biggest hydro development in decades.
“I think everyone know what the result will be no matter what anyone does,” Stephen Tomblin, a professor of political science at Memorial University in St. John’s, said as campaigning began.
Although the race has lacked suspense, it offered Ms. Dunderdale the chance to step out from the shadow of her predecessor. She proved a capable campaigner in her first outing as leader, facing protesters without flinching and defending the hydro development against skeptics.
Ms. Dunderdale remains committed to pursuing the possibility of development at Muskrat Falls, on the Lower Churchill in Labrador. But the project, which has not been approved, is criticized by opponents who fear it could become an environmental and economic disaster.
“It can withstand the scrutiny,” the Tory Leader said in an interview shortly before the start of the campaign. ““You know, it’s a six-billion-dollar project. Needs to withstand the scrutiny, so I don’t mind the questioning at all. Because I’m confident in the work that we’ve done, and continue to do.”
She also said she would consider election victory a mandate to pursue the current path on the project.
Tuesday’s result could come to be seen as a litmus test on her leadership. A lower share of the popular vote or fewer seats than during Mr. Williams’ tenure, even if the Tories form another government, would be disappointing.
The Tories held 43 of 48 seats at dissolution. The Liberals had four and the New Democrats one.