Newfoundland and Labrador’s New Democrats are in first place in a new provincial public-opinion poll — an historic first for the party.

The NDP polled 38 per cent support, narrowly ahead of the governing Progressive Conservatives at 35 per cent. The Liberals were third at 26 per cent. Five per cent of respondents were undecided, and two per cent refused to answer.

The NDP has long been a distant third choice in provincial politics, never holding more than two seats in the legislature until a recent breakthrough. The party won 25 per cent of the vote in the October 2011 election, capturing five seats but remaining behind the Tories and Liberals in the number of elected MHAs.

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A breakdown by geographic region of the Environics poll. (CBC)

The new poll — by Environics Research Group — came at the end of a punishing, and lengthy, session of the house of assembly.

The governing Tories endured an opposition filibuster and public discontent with a restrictive overhaul of access-to-information laws. And other bad-news stories surfaced during recent months, such as trouble at the Corner Brook paper mill.

Environics conducted 1,000 telephone interviews in the province between June 19 and 29.

The pollster asked which party’s candidate the respondents would vote for, if a provincial election were to be held that day.

The NDP lead is within the margin of error, but barely. The overall margin of error is plus or minus 3.2 per cent, 19 times out of 20.

2011 election

The Tories won last October’s election with 56 per cent of voter support.

"It’s definitely a big drop for the governing PCs," said Derek Leebosh, vice-president of public affairs for Environics.

Leebosh says Environics was carrying out a province-wide survey for a couple of clients, and decided to add on political questions to "take the temperature" in Newfoundland and Labrador.

He would not say who the clients were, citing confidentiality, but noted they are not related to political parties.

And the political questions were asked first, Leebosh said.

He specifically cited the recent controversy over Bill 29, which was widely viewed at reducing government transparency, as a contributing factor that could have "dragged" Tory support downward.

NDP rising

The federal NDP is at even higher levels of support in the province, Environics found, topping out at 65 per cent on the northeast Avalon.

That helped the party’s provincial numbers, Leebosh suggested.

'The provincial NDP is not at the same stratospheric heights that the federal party is in Newfoundland, but there’s clearly a bit of an orange wave building across the board.'—Derek Leebosh, vice-president of public affairs for Environics

"The provincial NDP is not at the same stratospheric heights that the federal party is in Newfoundland, but there’s clearly a bit of an orange wave building across the board," he said.

Leebosh stressed that his company’s survey sample was proportional, with roughly one-third of interviews done with people on the northeast Avalon. Labrador has six per cent of the province’s population, and accounted for six per cent of the telephone calls.

The NDP’s base of support is the northeast Avalon, where the party won four of its five seats in urban St. John’s districts.

The poll reflected that, with 49 per cent of respondents in the region saying they would vote NDP, compared to 31 per cent for the Tories and 19 per cent for the Liberals.

In the rest of the province, Environics found the race much closer — the PCs in front with 38 per cent, followed by the NDP at 32 per cent and the Liberals at 30 per cent.

The number of people who said the province is on the right track slightly outnumbered those who think it is on the wrong track — 45 per cent to 42 per cent.