Harper heads to Hockeyville

Conservative leader Stephen Harper will make a federal election campaign stop in Newfoundland and Labrador this week, according to party officials.
Stephen Harper says his government will provide a loan guarantee to the Lower Churchill project, if it meets three criteria. (CBC)

Conservative Leader Stephen Harper will make a return trip to Newfoundland and Labrador Thursday, hoping to bring extra vigour to battlefield ridings.

In his second campaign visit to the province, Harper will take part in a rally Thursday morning at Robert French Memorial Stadium in Conception Bay South.

The event at stadium, which recently won the national Kraft Hockeyville competition, starts at 10:30 a.m., with local Conservative candidates participating.

Harper's visit shows the Tories are dedicated to reclaiming seats in Newfoundland and Labrador, where the party was shut out in 2008 during the "anything but Conservative" campaign waged by former premier Danny Williams.

The party has been pouring resources particularly into its campaign in Avalon riding, where Fabian Manning is fighting to regain the seat he lost to the Liberals in 2008. Manning resigned from the Senate to re-enter elected politics.  

The Conservatives also in a three-way race in St. John's South-Mount Pearl, where Conservative Loyola Sullivan is aiming to unseat Liberal incumbent Siobhan Coady and hold back returning NDP candidate Ryan Cleary, who placed second in the last election.

Harper was in St. John's on March 31 when he said his party, if re-elected, will help the proposed Lower Churchill hydroelectric project with a loan guarantee or what he called "a financial equivalent," so long as the proposal meets criteria.

During that visit, Harper appeared only at a party rally at a St. John's hotel, and did not answer any questions from reporters.

The Lower Churchill promise has been a cornerstone of the Conservative campaign in Newfoundland and Labrador, although both Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff and NDP Leader Jack Layton subsequently made similar pledges.

Layton has also supported a request under a federal infrastructure program to defray the cost of running cables between southern Newfoundland and Nova Scotia.

Williams directed the ABC campaign at Harper, over what Williams called broken election promises over equalization and offshore oil revenues.

The tone of this campaign is considerably different, with Premier Kathy Dunderdale endorsing Harper and his slate, which includes four former MHAs, three of whom sat in provincial Progressive Conservative cabinets.