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Women could take big step forward in Newfoundland election

It's election season in Canada, with five provincial races in gear – or about to be. The Globe's John Ibbitson keeps tabs on who's ahead, what matters and what it all means for the rest of Canada.

The most interesting news from the spate of provincial election campaigns underway comes from Newfoundland and Labrador, which could be about to take a leap forward for the cause of women in politics.

The news is not who will win: There is virtually no doubt that Progressive Conservative Leader Kathy Dunderdale, who replaced Danny Williams as premier last year, will prevail on Oct. 11.

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The news is that for the first time in the province's history, the Official Opposition could be the NDP under Leader Lorraine Michael, which means a woman opposition leader would face a woman premier: Was that a glass ceiling I just heard shattering?

A poll from Halifax-based Corporate Research Associates has the Newfoundland Tories at 54 per cent, the NDP at 24 per cent and the Liberals at 22 per cent. These are remarkable numbers: The NDP is not usually this big a factor in Newfoundland provincial politics.

But the Dippers have been doing better in the province federally, snagging two seats in St. John's in the last federal election. The provincial Liberals are struggling to regroup; Kevin Aylward replaced Yvonne Jones as leader last month, after she was forced to resign for health reasons. (Yes, at one point all three party leaders were women.)

The poll was conducted before the death of Jack Layton. Since then, support for the NDP has, at least temporarily, increased in other parts of the country. If trends hold, the legislature in St. John's as well as Ottawa could see the NDP as Official Opposition for the first time.

In Prince Edward Island, the question isn't who the opposition will be, but whether there will be any: A new poll has Robert Ghiz so far ahead that his Liberal Party could take every seat.

(By the way, premier Catherine Callbeck faced opposition leader Patricia Mella on the Island back in the 1990s. It would seem the smaller the province, the better the chances of women being in charge. Why? Now there's a Ph.D. thesis just waiting to be written.)

Speaking of sweeps, a poll from Praxis Analytics has Brad Wall's conservative Saskatchewan Party at 63 per cent, nearly 40 points ahead of Dwain Lingenfelter's New Democrats, who are at 26 per cent. Over at, Eric Grenier's seat projections now include the possibility – but only the possibility – that the Saskatchewan Party could hold as many as 51 seats in the 58-seat legislature after the Nov. 7 election.

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There is no clear indication yet that either the governing NDP or challenging Conservatives are pulling ahead in Manitoba. Close horse races are sometimes decided by the televised leaders' debate. There was a lot of to-ing and fro-ing this year over when the debate would be, since the networks were reluctant to give up prime time just as the new fall season is getting underway.

But word has arrived that the debate will occur Sept. 23 at 6:15 p.m. (before prime time) for a short-and-sweet 45 minutes.

Things got testy during a radio debate Monday, as the normally reserved NDP Leader Greg Selinger called Conservative Leader Hugh McFadyen's proposals "crazy" and repeatedly cut him off, causing a frustrated Mr. McFadyen to ask: "Are you okay?"

"Are you okay? Are you okay?" Mr. Selinger shot back, further demonstrating that the art of rhetoric is not presently at its peak.

In Ontario, the big fight is over the word "foreigners." That's how Conservative Leader Tim Hudak described those who could benefit from a Liberal proposal to give $10,000 to employers who hire immigrant workers.

Except the Liberal proposal, once properly explained – or at least once the Liberals had figured out how much trouble they might be in and modified it – would apply only to Canadians who had been citizens for fewer than five years and who were having trouble obtaining accreditation in certain professions.

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But who cares about the details? The Liberal plank has the Tories flinging out accusations of Liberal affirmative-action programs that punish the native-born, with the Liberals firing back that the Conservatives are intolerant of immigrants.

When it comes to nasty, these days, no one can beat Ontario.

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About the Author

John Ibbitson started at The Globe in 1999 and has been Queen's Park columnist and Ottawa political affairs correspondent.Most recently, he was a correspondent and columnist in Washington, where he wrote Open and Shut: Why America has Barack Obama and Canada has Stephen Harper. He returned to Ottawa as bureau chief in 2009. More

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