Nfld. & Labrador

Alison Coffin loses seat, calls pandemic election 'dark day in our history'

NDP Leader Alison Coffin lost St. Johns East-Quidi Vidi to Liberal John Abbott by just 53 votes. "Our democratic sensibilities have been assailed amid a pandemic. We have the lowest voter turnout ever," she said, referencing a 48 per cent result.

NDP Leader loses seat by 53 votes to Liberal John Abbott

NDP Leader Alison Coffin thanks supporters at the Alt Hotel in St. John's on Saturday, after losing her seat by 53 votes. MHA Jim Dinn, who won re-election, stands by her side. (Heather Gillis/CBC)

Shortly after learning Saturday that she lost her seat by 53 votes to Liberal John Abbott, NDP Leader Alison Coffin told a small and sombre crowd that it was a historic day — but for all the wrong reasons and troubling ones at that. 

"It will serve as a resounding lesson in democracy. It will be the dark day in our history telling us we must do better," she said at a podium at the Alt Hotel in downtown St. John's.

"Our democratic sensibilities have been assailed amid a pandemic. We have the lowest voter turnout ever. Thousands more are complaining about the vote. Thousands more, again, are feeling disenfranchised."

Coffin is correct when it comes to voter turnout — just 48 per cent of eligible voters cast a ballot in an election that saw a last-minute shift to mail-in voting. The campaign dragged on for 10 weeks because of a spike in COVID-19 cases just days before Newfoundlanders and Labradorians were due to go to the polls. 

Prior to this election, the lowest voter turnout in a provincial election was 55 per cent. 

A last-minute voter drops their ballot off at Elections NL in St. John's on March 25, 2021. (Josee Basque/Radio-Canada)

Coffin had hammered Liberal Premier Andrew Furey about the timing of the election, which he called Jan. 15. COVID-19 case counts remained low until the week of Feb 8, when an outbreak caused a dramatic spike and pushed the province into lockdown, and in-person voting was suspended, at first in almost half of the 40 districts a mere 12 hours before polls opened. 

Various issues — voting deadlines extended four times, people not receiving ballots or receiving too many, some people allowed to vote by phone — plagued the 10-week campaign. 

On Friday, NDP, president Kyle Rees claimed "an unprecedented number" had been spoiled. Elections NL said the claim has no basis. The NDP also claimed scrutineers were not being permitted to see vote tally sheets used to record results. 

WATCH | Alison Coffin had caustic criticism of Andrew Furey in her concession speech: 

Alison Coffin says 'dark' outcome for democracy in N.L. vote

CBC News Newfoundland

2 months ago
7:46
Defeated NDP leader addresses supporters in St. John's 7:46

"Andrew Furey's leadership and administration will be forever tarnished by the lingering questions posed by this election," Coffin said. 

"But Newfoundlanders and Labradorians will always question this election, sure, we're still talking about the Confederation vote," she said.

Heart and soul, conviction and values

Coffin pivoted to a more positive approach when speaking of her own party and candidates. 

"New Democrats put their heart and soul into a campaign, ran on conviction and values. We ran on transparency and accountability to the people of Newfoundland and Labrador," she said. 

NDP Leader Alison Coffin paused her campaigning in January to take in her regularly scheduled hockey game. (Newfoundland and Labrador NDP)

She listed off campaign promises including a dental care plan for seniors and a $15/hour minimum wage. She listed many of the NDP candidates by name, including the two who won their seats and will return to the House of Assembly: Labrador West's Jordan Brown and St. John's Centre' Jim Dinn. In 2019, Brown squeaked out a win, via a recount, by just two votes. This time around, he won handily, by 579 votes. 

"They will fight for everyday people of Newfoundland and Labrador. You have a voice in them," Coffin said.

She added "I will be here to help them, however, and whenever I can."

'I have enjoyed every single minute'

Coffin was at times emotional on Saturday during her speech — a far cry from her jubilance in the May 2019 election, upon learning she won. 

"This is a new era," Coffin said at the time of that victory. 

NDP Leader Alison Coffin celebrates after winning her seat in St. John's East-Quidi Vidi in the May 2019 election. (Terry Roberts/CBC)

She had stepped in shortly before that election, after Gerry Rogers decided to leave politics. 

Speaking with CBC Saturday, Rogers called Coffin's defeat a "loss to the province."

"Alison has been a great politician," adding she is someone who had a great handle on the economic situation on the province.

Coffin said it's been an honour to have served in the legislature for the last two years. 

"I know in my heart and in my soul that two years ago I made the right decision to the people of Newfoundland and Labrador, you deserve better than you have gotten from decades of liberal and conservative governments," she said.

"I have enjoyed every single minute of this experience, every conversation and every smile will be remembered for years to come quite fondly for that."

Coffin did not say what's next for her. 

She closed her speech with thanking her volunteer and campaign team. 

But also took a parting shot at Furey and her perceived lack of his transparency. 

"Today, we saw the election results as they are today. Monday may bring something new. Probably not the Greene report," she said, referring to the delay in an interim report from a team looking at economic restructuring, chaired by Moya Greene. 

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