Nfld. & Labrador·Analysis

Is another lopsided election looming?

Ten of the last 18 elections have resulted in small returns for the Opposition. Doug Letto ponders whether this may play out in 2011 as well.

In Newfoundland and Labrador general elections, there's a strong likelihood of a lopsided outcome. By the look of CRA’s September poll, the 2011 election may fit that category as well.

In 10 of the 18 general elections since 1949, the second-place party has been held to seats in the single digits. In three of those elections, the official opposition gained only three seats, and that's how Gerry Reid's Liberals finished in the most recent provincial vote in October 2007.

In the time since, the Conservatives have held on to their strong majority; their only loss in seven byelections was in The Straits-White Bay North. So, what clues are there to how the province will vote this October?

Polling trend

First, the opinion polls. The Conservatives tumbled from the Williams-esque polling numbers in the March 2011 survey by Corporate Research Associates [73 per cent support of decided voters] to 57 per cent in June and settled out at 54 in September.

The Liberals have lost by gaining the least, from 18 per cent in March to 22 per cent in June and the same in September. The New Democrats have gained the most, from eight per cent in March to 20 per cent in June and 24 in September.

This is what's important: the last two polls have put stable electoral ground underneath Kathy Dunderdale’s feet. Her party’s numbers have stabilized in the mid-50s.

Liberals change leaders

Much has changed for the opposition parties since the last CRA poll in June. Former Liberal cabinet minister Kevin Aylward was chosen by the party's executive board in August to replace Yvonne Jones.

Aylward is not the political messiah Liberals hoped for; Dean MacDonald and Paul Antle continue to cool their political heels on the sidelines.

Aylward will have to fight the perception that he's a political retread, and he might also reflect on the last time Liberals chose a last-minute leader, Don Jamieson in 1979. Jamieson arrived home from federal politics to great fanfare, but was defeated by Peckford and the Tories.

The Layton factor

New Democrats have been on a high since Jack Layton led the national party to official Opposition status in the May 2 federal vote.

Provincially, they saw a 12-point bounce in the June CRA poll and another four points in September.

Will that translate into seats, or will the NDP poll strong second- and third-place balloting? 

Other factors

The critical question in assessing the likelihood of a change of government next month is, what has the government done to derail its chances of being re-elected?

The Liberals have attacked the government’s plan to develop Muskrat Falls hydro, but that hasn’t been reflected in support for the Opposition in the polls.

And the government has swiped off Opposition attacks of its pre-election spending by positioning itself as a responsible steward of the province's finances.

The government line is that the recent spate of announcements [now stopped], are merely details of spending announced in this spring's budget. And they plan to further pay down the debt with a $600-million windfall from increased oil production.

The polls, if they hold, suggest there could be more opposition seats in the next legislature. The NDP is polling 16 points higher than they were at this time in 2007. The Liberals are polling 13 points higher than what Gerry Reid had heading into the 2007 provincial vote.

But will that improvement for both parties be enough to change our tendency to vote in a "strong" or lopsided government?

Even if the answer is yes, all the other factors point toward a Conservative win. This is surely Kathy Dunderdale's election to lose.