On Tuesday, Newfoundland and Labrador voters are expected to give the Progressive Conservatives their third consecutive mandate since 2003 – and a first under the leadership of Premier Kathy Dunderdale. While there is little doubt about the make-up of the next government in Newfoundland and Labrador, how the opposition parties will fare is the big question heading into election day.
For the first time in their history, Newfoundland New Democrats are running second in the polls and are on track to form the Official Opposition. The Liberals, who have governed the province for most of its post-Confederation history, are a distant third but may have enough pockets of strength in the rural parts of the island to come out ahead of Lorraine Michael's NDP.
The odds are against Liberal Leader Kevin Aylward, however. The three final polls of the campaign, all conducted between Sept. 29 and Oct. 4, put Liberal support equal to or less than 17 per cent. The New Democrats are hovering around 30 per cent, while Ms. Dunderdale's Tories could take anywhere from 50 per cent to 60 per cent of the vote.
Based on a weighted aggregation of these polls, the Progressive Conservatives are projected to take 55.1 per cent of the vote, their lowest haul since 1999. The New Democrats are projected to have 30.4 per cent support, almost four times the 8.2 per cent of the vote the NDP took in 2007 and more than twice their best performance of 1985. The Newfoundland Liberals are projected to have 14.2 per cent of the votes cast Tuesday night – their worst result since Confederation.
With these levels of support, ThreeHundredEight.com's seat projection model gives the Progressive Conservatives 42 seats, one less than they had when the House of Assembly was dissolved. The New Democrats are projected to win four seats and form the Official Opposition, while the Liberals are projected to win two. The Liberals held four and the NDP one at dissolution.
Ridings in Newfoundland and Labrador are relatively small, and local issues and candidates play a more important role than they might in other provinces. And with the rise of the New Democrats from distant third to a strong second, predicting the precise number of seats is difficult. But based on the available data and the close races expected, the Progressive Conservatives are most likely to win between 39 and 44 seats. Anything but a majority government is out of the question.
While the New Democrats come out ahead in the projection model, the number of close races suggests the role of the Official Opposition is still up for grabs. The NDP, however, has the edge. They are projected to win between three and five seats, while the Liberals could win between one and four.
How the vote breaks down in the province will be the deciding factor.
The most important battleground is in St. John's, where the NDP's fortunes will be decided. The party holds the city's two seats at the federal level but provincially the Tories dominate the capital. The one NDP seat, occupied by Ms. Michael, is located here.
Polls differ on the situation in St. John's. Environics found support in the city to be dead even between the two parties at 47 per cent apiece, while Corporate Research Associates gave the Tories the support of about 60 per cent of decided voters, with the New Democrats at about 31 per cent. If the race is as close as Environics predicts, the New Democrats could win as many as four seats in the city. If the gap is the kind that CRA suggests it is, the New Democrats are unlikely to win any new seats in St. John's.
In the rest of the province, the Liberals are more competitive and are running second to the Tories in the western parts of Newfoundland and in Labrador. This is where the Liberals will be gunning for seats tomorrow night, and a few incumbents might be difficult to dislodge.
But the votes still need to be cast and counted. With the election of a female premier, the potential downfall of a formerly grand party, and the breakthrough of another that used to occupy the fringes, Tuesday night's election in Newfoundland and Labrador promises to be an important one in the province's history.
Éric Grenier writes about politics and polls at ThreeHundredEight.com