Nfld. & Labrador

Goose egg: Conservative vote collapses in N.L.

Support for the Conservatives practically vanished Tuesday across Newfoundland and Labrador as many voters heeded Premier Danny Williams's call to boycott the federal Tories.

Support for the Conservatives practically vanished Tuesday across Newfoundland and Labrador as many voters heeded Premier Danny Williams's call to boycott the federal Tories.

The Conservatives, who had held three of Newfoundland and Labrador's seven seats heading into campaign, were shut out in Tuesday's election.

The results mark the first time voters in Newfoundland and Labrador have not elected a member to a government side.

The Liberals expanded their reach to six seats, while the New Democrats reclaimed St. John's East, a seat the party has not held in two decades.

Fabian Manning, the lone Conservative incumbent running in the province, lost in an upset in Avalon, a largely rural riding surrounding St. John's on the Avalon Peninsula, to veteran Liberal organizer Scott Andrews.

"This is not the result we wanted," Manning told a crowd of heartbroken supporters, acknowledging defeat of not only his candidacy but of his party's campaign in the province.

Manning had been the Conservatives' best hope for holding off the "anything but Conservative" campaign that Williams and his supporters began waging long before the election was even called.

The Conservatives, who took about 43 per cent of the Newfoundland and Labrador vote in 2006, received less than 17 per cent this time. The Liberals picked up some support, but the NDP surged to about a third of the votes cast.

Equalization impasse

The results echo the "goose egg" that Williams, a Progressive Conservative, first suggested in 2006, after he and Prime Minister Stephen Harper hit an impasse over the equalization policy.

Williams formally launched the ABC campaign last year after the Harper Conservatives departed from written policy and included non-renewable energy sources in the equalization formula.

The Liberals held on to four of the ridings they represented in the last Parliament, and also picked up a seat in St. John's South-Mount Pearl, where perennial candidate Siobhan Coady made a breakthrough on her third attempt.

In neighbouring St. John's East, New Democrat Jack Harris — a former provincial leader who briefly represented the riding two decades ago after winning a byelection in 1987 — came out of political retirement to win by a landslide.

Liberal incumbents Todd Russell, Scott Simms and Gerry Byrne were re-elected handily. Joining them in the next Parliament is former provincial cabinet minister Judy Foote, who had also been a senior adviser to former Liberal premier Clyde Wells.

Williams mum for now

Even staunch supporters of Williams had been expecting Manning to win, and just last week Williams himself said he did not necessarily need to have a shutout for the ABC campaign to be declared a success.

Williams was not commenting Tuesday night on the results. He is expected to speak with reporters on Wednesday.

"The implications are huge," said Craig Westcott, the Conservative candidate in St. John's East, who suggested that Williams may now launch a more extreme battle with the federal government, such as renegotiating the Terms of Union that brought Newfoundland into Confederation with Canada in 1949.

But Michael Temelini, a political scientist at Memorial University, said residents of Newfoundland and Labrador will not necessarily be out in the cold.

"How did someone inside cabinet help Newfoundland and Labrador?" said Temelini, adding that the federal Tories have not been helpful on issues such as moving the Lower Churchill hydroelectric megaproject forward.

"In substantive matters, having a cabinet minister didn't help us at all."

The Conservatives placed third in five of the seven ridings in the province, and second in just two: Avalon and Bonavista-Grand Falls-Windsor, where lawyer Andrew House nonetheless polled far behind incumbent Scott Simms.

"I'm very disappointed, very disappointed," said Gloria White, the mayor of the St. Mary's Bay community of Riverhead and a Manning supporter.

"We have no representation in Ottawa. We live in small, rural communities.... Now, we have nobody. I wouldn't know who to call" for assistance, White said.

Harris gives credit to Williams

Harris said he won through the hard work of NDP volunteers, although he credited Williams with underscoring for voters significant problems with the Harper Conservatives.

"He has ensured that the PC voters in Newfoundland and Labrador, and perhaps beyond Newfoundland and Labrador, [know] that the Conservative party is not the party that they once supported," Harris told a cheering crowd.

Manning, 44, a former member of the provincial assembly, told his supporters that his own career is not over.

"I have a strange feeling I'm not out of this picture yet," Manning told the cheering crowd.

Andrews, a longtime backroom worker and a councillor in Conception Bay South, made a splash of a debut in elected politics. He applauded his campaign workers for reaching out to voters over a long geographical stretch.

"From shore to shore, from door to door, we did it," Andrews said.