The Liberals conceded ground across Atlantic Canada, but held much of the region as the Green Party broke through with a historic win in Fredericton.
Four years ago, the Liberals swept across the east in a surging red tide, winning all of the region’s 32 seats – capturing “lightning in a bottle” in the words of former Cape Breton-Canso MP Rodger Cuzner. But this time around the region was a key election battleground, with the Tories, NDP and Greens all seeing success here.
The Green Party finally had their much hoped-for breakthrough in the East, when Jenica Atwin made history as the first Green MP elected in Atlantic Canada, defeating Liberal incumbent Matt DeCourcey in Fredericton.
“They are going to hear me, they are going to hear us, and we are going to make the world a better place,” Ms. Atwin told a crowd of jubilant Green Party supporters in Fredericton.
In St. John’s East, Jack Harris won the seat for the NDP, the lone orange blot on an otherwise all-red map of Newfoundland and Labrador. A well-known figure in Newfoundland politics since the late 1980s, he narrowly lost in 2015 and was widely seen as a front-runner to take the seat back from Liberal Nick Whalen. His victory was seen by some observers as a sign the New Democrats still had some life in a region that had largely been overlooked by leader Jagmeet Singh.
The Conservatives had the most ground to gain, campaigning hard to retake what they saw as their traditional territory in the region, particularly in the small towns of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia.
“That’s the thing about the tides. They come in, but they always go back out again,” said John Williamson, the former director of communications under Stephen Harper who retook his old seat in New Brunswick Southwest from Liberal Karen Ludwig.
With four parties winning seats in Atlantic Canada, the region will now have voices in Ottawa from both inside and outside caucus speaking for it.
“That’s healthy for Atlantic Canada,” said Tom Urbaniak, a political science professor at Cape Breton University. “Some of the concerns around infrastructure, unemployment, climate change, they’ll be articulated from inside the halls of power, and from the opposition as well.”
Some, including Mr. Urbaniak, said Mr. Singh “made a mistake” by spending so little time in the region during the campaign, opening the door to the Green Party to pick up more support on the east coast.
Just a few years ago a Liberal stronghold, Atlantic Canada became a vulnerability in the months leading up the election. Only in Newfoundland and Labrador and Prince Edward Island - where prominent MPs Lawrence MacAulay and Wayne Easter kept their seats - did the Liberals consistently remain in the lead in polling.
That’s despite genuine hopes from the Green Party that an East Coast breakthrough might finally be possible on PEI, where the provincial Greens are the Official Opposition. In the end, that breakthrough didn’t come on the island at all but in the university town of Fredericton, where Ms. Atwin became the first Green Party MP elected outside of British Columbia.
In Nova Scotia, rural ridings across the province were very much in play after prominent, long-time Liberal MPs Scott Brison, Bill Casey, Mark Eyking and Mr. Cuzner announced their retirements from politics before the election. Those departures left the party without incumbents in five of their 11 seats in the province.
In Central Nova, Liberal MP Sean Fraser held off a challenge from country star and political newcomer George Canyon, who was getting help behind the scenes from former Tory cabinet minister Peter MacKay. In Mr. Brison’s old riding of Central Nova, 28-year-old Liberal Kody Blois was passed the torch in a seat where the former cabinet minister canvassed by his side and was an active mentor.
In New Brunswick, the Conservatives played on anti-Trudeau sentiment and economic frustrations as they tried to reclaim huge swaths of the province’s rural, and mostly anglophone, areas in closely fought battles with the Liberals. Only in the province’s French-speaking regions did the Liberals maintain comfortable leads in opinion polls, including long-time MP Dominic Leblanc, who has represented the riding of Beauséjour since 2000.
It was inevitable the Liberals would lose seats in Atlantic Canada, where in 2015 they rode a “once in a generation” surge of late momentum on their way to forming government, according to one political observer. But despite their gains, the Conservatives didn’t have as many victories as they were hoping for, after Andrew Scheer spent significant time in the region.
“This is more of a correction, a return to normalcy,” said J.P. Lewis, an associate professor of political science at the University of New Brunswick in Saint John.
“I think this shows that 2015 may have been an anomaly. That was a ‘change’ election with a charismatic leader who rode it, after 10 years with a Harper government and lots of people saying his time was done.”
The federal vote in New Brunswick – where the Conservatives flipped three seats – mirrored much of the result from the 2018 provincial election in that province, where the Liberals lost support, Green Party won seats for the first time, and the PCs reclaimed seats across rural areas, Mr. Lewis said.