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The Globe and Mail

Silver is gold in Newfoundland's election

Newfoundland and Labrador NDP leader Lorraine Michael gives an interview at her home in St. John's, on Sept. 13, 2011.


Unsurprisingly, the provincial election that's getting the most attention so far this fall is the vote in Ontario. I'll probably be struck by lightning for writing this, but given current global economic circumstances and the vulnerability Canada faces as a result, what happens when Ontarians go to the polls on Oct. 6 may matter more just this once than the results of the Newfoundland and Labrador election on Oct. 11. After all, Ontario is a little bigger and is a have-not province while my beloved Rock isn't. The next government of Ontario has to work to change that designation since a weaker Central Canadian economy hurts the entire country.

As a form of penance, though, let me tell you about Election 2011 in Newfoundland and Labrador. This is the first election of the post-Danny Williams era and for the most part watching paint dry is more exciting. That suits Mr. Williams's replacement, Kathy Dunderdale, who according to recent polls holds a 30-point lead over her opponents. Dull is good when you're the incumbent – it means people aren't hollering for your head and there is no real desire for change.

Barring something unforeseen that leads to a massive mood swing, Ms. Dunderdale will be Premier again on Oct 12. But the real question locals are contemplating is who will finish second. Currently, the Liberals hold the No. 2 position in the Legislature – but those same opinion surveys that show the Newfoundland Tories with a massive lead put the NDP slightly ahead of the Grits in public sentiment. That rarely ever happens in my province's politics.

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Lorraine Michael, the former nun who leads Newfoundland's New Democrats, is the most experienced leader in this battle. She will want all the divine intervention she can muster to propel her party and herself into opposition. Running what might be described as a Jack Layton copycat campaign, she is hoping to ride her own personal appeal, residual Orange Crush sentiment and a co-operative working relationship with the federal NDP to a historic first – finishing ahead of the Liberals in what normally is Canada's most important province. If she succeeds it also potentially bodes well for the federal NDP, who have built a small base in Newfoundland and Labrador. They hold both of federal seats in St. John's and a second-place provincial victory shows some staying power.

Kevin Aylward, the affable new provincial Liberal Leader, is in a tough fight. He inherited control of the Newfoundland Grits less than two months ago. Not unlike his federal cousins, Mr. Aylward and his party have not had a clear identity for years, since the days of Brian Tobin, and are crunched for cash. Kudos to him for giving it a go, but right now it appears his chalice is poisoned. Little wonder in these circumstances he speaks fondly of a favorite political deity, Danny Williams, in hopes he can channel his former opponent's political skills and appeal. In real terms, winning for Mr. Aylward is not forming government but holding off this latest apparent NDP surge. Given the upheaval Newfoundland Liberals have gone through in the last number of years, maintaining opposition status in the provincial legislature will be an acceptable win for them. The federal Liberals couldn't do that; Mr. Aylward hopes he can.

Okay. Back to Ontario coverage. For now you can enjoy the spotlight.

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