There are 48 districts up for grabs on Oct. 11, but some warrant a closer watch than others.
Here is my initial list of 10 districts to watch over the coming weeks. This is by no means an exhaustive list. But these are seats which I believe will be a combination of competitive, interesting, and carry high stakes for some of this election’s big names.
Bay of Islands. This is a rematch between Conservative Terry Loder (who won in 2007) and Liberal Eddie Joyce (who lost in 2007). The margin was less than 300 votes and the Tories are warning people to never underestimate Eddie Joyce in an election campaign. The NDP are high on first-time candidate Tony Adey.
Burin-Placentia West. Another rematch, this one between Fisheries Minister Clyde Jackman (who has held this seat since 2003) and Julie Mitchell of the NDP. Jackman beat Mitchell, the deputy mayor of Marystown, by a healthy margin in 2007, but this district is battling a series of economic problems that could hurt him. The OCI plant in Marystown is shut down and facing an uncertain future. The shipyard is idle while its owner squabbles with the provincial government over ferry contracts. Jackie Mullett is running for the Liberals, who finished a distant third in the last campaign.
Humber Valley. Rematches are the theme of these districts, but Humber Valley takes the cake. Liberal Dwight Ball is back for his fourth run in this district since 2003 and for his third straight battle with Conservative Darryl Kelly in just four years. Ball ran in this seat and lost in 2003 to his sister-in-law Kathy Goudie. But Goudie resigned in 2007 and Ball defeated Kelly in the byelection to replace her. Ball’s time in the House of Assembly was short-lived as just a few months later Kelly defeated Ball in the general election. Sheldon Hynes, a funeral director, is running for the NDP. He ran in Fortune Bay-Cape La Hune in 2007. This seat makes my head spin.
Isles of Notre Dame. Derrick Dalley won this seat for in 2007 when he defeated former Liberal leader Gerry Reid by just 12 votes. It was a stunner — not only because a leader lost his seat — but because this particular piece of political real estate has been hard-core Liberal pretty much since Confederation. Redistribution created the current boundaries in 1995. But prior to that, the Liberals lost Twillingate in 1982 and Fogo in 1989 for just a single term each. Dalley is now the minister of business and facing what promises to be a colourful challenge from former Liberal party president and leadership hopeful Danny Dumaresque. Dumaresque is from Labrador and has no obvious connection to this district other than the fact that he thinks he can win.
Labrador West. The incumbent MHA Jim Baker retired before the election, so it falls to Nick McGrath to hold this seat for the Conservatives. The executive chef at the Wabush Hotel will need to cook up some votes if he is going to hold off the NDP. This may be the NDP’s best shot at gaining a seat. The now disgraced Randy Collins won this seat for the NDP in 1999 and 2003. Tom Harris, who works for the United Steelworkers, is the NDP candidate this time around. Karen Oldford is running for the Liberals for the second straight election. Oldford finished a distant third in 2007.
Lake Melville. This is another Conservative seat left vacant due to retirement. In this case, Labrador Affairs Minister John Hickey decided to pack it in rather than seek a third term. Tory insiders say that was probably for the best, as the polarizing Hickey’s popularity had nosedived after his re-election in 2007. Hickey’s replacement is Keith Russell and the buzz is that Liberals stacked the PC nomination meeting to help ensure that Russell got the nomination. Chris Montague of the NunatuKavut Community Council is running for the Liberals for the second straight election. Montague is a vocal opponent of Muskrat Falls who went to court to try to stop the environmental review process. Arlene Michelin-Pittman, a municipal councillor in Happy Valley-Goose Bay, is running for the NDP.
Port de Grave. Roland Butler was the only Liberal on the Avalon Peninsula to survive the Danny Williams sweeps of 2003 and 2007. But Butler retired this year and now his seat is in play. Leanne Hussey is the Liberal candidate. She has been around politics her entire life and her father Kevin Hussey is a former vice-president of the party. But Glenn Littlejohn is back for the Conservatives after falling just 260 votes short of Butler in 2007. Littlejohn is the mayor of Bay Roberts and a highly successful softball coach. Hussey faces a tough challenge here to keep this seat Liberal.
St. George’s-Stephenville East. If there is one district the Liberals absolutely must win in this election, it is this one. Liberal leader Kevin Aylward is trying to make a comeback in the seat he held for 18 years during the first act of his political career. But it won’t be easy. This is Joan Burke’s seat. The Conservative House Leader and education minister is considered to be one of the most influential cabinet ministers in the Dunderdale government. She has held the seat since 2003, but some Tories are worried she will have problems with Aylward.
St. John’s North. This is one of those seats where the NDP surge in the polls could really come into play. This district is a student ghetto with a vast pool of young people could be mobilized by a former student activist like Dale Kirby, the NDP candidate and party president. This part of St. John’s is also dotted with brand new subdivisions that were built since the last election. Those are full of young families that offer a target of opportunity to the NDP. But the Conservative incumbent Bob Ridgley is no slouch. Ridgley is known around Confederation Building as a tireless worker for his district who pulled 78 per cent of the vote in 2007. It would be an upset if the NDP won this seat, but if the so-called NDP "surge" is real, Kirby is well-positioned to take advantage.
Signal Hill-Quidi Vidi. The NDP heartland is under siege once again from a big-name Tory candidate. Lorraine Michael beat Jerome Kennedy (now the health minister) in 2006 byelection, she beat Maria Afonso (now the premier’s executive assistant) in the general election in 2007. This time the NDP leader is up against John Noseworthy, likely the best-known auditor general in the province’s history. Most famous for helping to put MHAs in jail, Noseworthy has decided that he wants to be one. It is hard to imagine Michael losing her seat, especially with the NDP showing in the federal election and in recent polls, but Noseworthy’s candidacy adds some star power to this race.