Liberals win in dramatic fashion in Newfoundland and Labrador

The Liberal win might not have been as big as some expected, but it was still the party's best performance in almost half a century.

The Liberals put up their biggest win in 49 years

Dwight Ball, Newfoundland and Labrador's Liberal premier-designate, embraces his wife Sharon after winning a majority government in the provincial election in Corner Brook, N.L. on Monday. (Andrew Vaughan/Canadian Press)

That the Newfoundland and Labrador Liberals won big in last night's provincial election came as no surprise. If anything, many expected their victory to be even bigger.

But despite those over-heated expectations, Newfoundlanders and Labradorians still delivered the Liberals and Progressive Conservatives their respective best and worst performances in half a century — and the most significant swing in a party's fortunes in the province's history.

The Liberals under Dwight Ball captured 57.2 per cent of the vote and 31 seats. Paul Davis's incumbent Progressive Conservatives took 30.1 per cent of the vote and seven seats, while the New Democrats under Earle McCurdy (who lost his own election bid) took 12.1 per cent of the vote and two seats.

Though the Liberals took a smaller share of the vote than former PC premier Danny Williams did in 2003 and 2007, it still marked the Liberals' best performance in the province since 1966. The PCs dropped to their lowest share of the vote since 1959.

Share of vote won by Liberals (red), Progressive Conservatives (blue), and New Democrats (orange) in provincial elections since 1949.

The Liberals picked up 38.1 points compared to their performance in 2011, the largest swing between two elections in the province's electoral history. The PCs fell 26 points and the NDP 12.5 points, as the Liberals gained about 72,000 votes, coming in large part from the Tories (down 64,000 votes) and the NDP (down by more than 30,000).

Tale of one city

There was a marked difference in the results between metropolitan St. John's and the rest of the province. The Liberals captured six of the city and surrounding area's 13 seats, while winning 25 seats out of the remaining 27 seats outside St. John's.

Nevertheless, the Liberals saw their vote explode in the capital, increasing by about seven times compared to the party's 2011 performance. The party captured 44 per cent of the vote in and around St. John's, compared to 37 per cent for the PCs and 19 per cent for the NDP.

But even within the St. John's metropolitan region there were some striking differences. In St. John's itself, the electoral fight was between the Liberals (who won five seats and 50 per cent of the vote) and the New Democrats (who captured two seats and 30 per cent of the vote). The PC vote was cut in half in the city.

In the surrounding suburbs, however, the Tories managed to hold on to most of their vote. They won five of the six districts in the region, winning 55 per cent of the vote against 37 per cent for the Liberals. It was the only region of the province in which the Liberals did not take a majority of ballots cast.

The Liberals dominated the rest of Newfoundland and Labrador, capturing 56 per cent of the vote in central Newfoundland, 59 per cent of the vote on the Avalon Peninsula outside St. John's, 63 per cent in eastern Newfoundland as well as in Labrador, and 79 per cent of the vote in western Newfoundland.

This was the location of their most dramatic victory: Andrew Parsons took 97 per cent of the vote in the district of Burgeo–La Poile, one of three districts (the other two being in Labrador) in which the Liberals took more than 90 per cent of the vote.

The Progressive Conservatives saw their vote collapse outside of St. John's by half or more, while the NDP's vote also decreased significantly in every part of the province. The NDP's poor overall showing, however, still ranks as its third-best performance.

The polls

There were only a few polls conducted in the last half of the election campaign, and only one that was entirely conducted in the final week of the campaign. That made the difference, as the polls that left the field earlier (Corporate Research Associates polled from Nov. 5 to 22 and Abacus Data from Nov. 22 to 24) pegged the gap between the Liberals and Tories to be 42 to 45 points, rather than the 27-point margin the Liberals actually won by.

But a poll conducted by Forum Research on Sunday, the eve of the election, was quite close to the mark: it pegged the Liberals to have 54 per cent against 31 per cent for the PCs and 15 for the NDP.

District-level polling — a rarity in most elections, let alone in a small province like Newfoundland and Labrador — was hit or miss, with two of the four polls conducted by Abacus Data for VOCM correctly picking the eventual winner. However, the polls were conducted at the midpoint of the campaign when the Liberals were polling at very high levels.

In fact, the polls themselves may have contributed to the better-than-expected performance of the Tories (including a  district poll showing Davis losing his own seat). The message that a sweep by the Liberals would not be healthy for the province's democracy may have resonated with some voters.

Nevertheless, the win by Dwight Ball marks the culmination of a string of impressive victories by federal and provincial parties that began over two years ago. Ball's will be the latest in a growing sea of friendly faces around the premier's table for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

But with provincial elections in which conservative parties are favoured scheduled for April — in Saskatchewan and Manitoba — that winning streak may come to an end soon.


Éric Grenier

Politics and polls

Éric Grenier is a senior writer and the CBC's polls analyst. He was the founder of and has written for The Globe and Mail, Huffington Post Canada, The Hill Times, Le Devoir, and L’actualité.