Nfld. & Labrador

Penashue astonished by Labrador win

The candidate who became the first Tory in more than four decades to get elected in Labrador said Tuesday he is still reeling from an upset win.
Conservative candidate Peter Penashue staged an upset victory in the riding of Labrador on Monday. (CBC )

The candidate who became the first Tory in more than four decades to get elected in Labrador said Tuesday he is still reeling from an upset win.

"I'm still trying to convince myself it's true, what has just happened in the last 24 hours," said Conservative Peter Penashue, who squeezed out a victory with a 231-vote margin over Liberal Todd Russell.

"I woke up this morning and I was still the elected MP. At some point, it's … going to become real. "

Penashue, an Innu leader, had trailed Russell during much of the night. At one point the CBC News decision desk had declared Russell elected in the traditional Liberal riding.

The final polls, however, pushed Penashue ahead.

Penashue picked up considerable support from his home community of Sheshatshiu, and may have appealed to many residents of Happy Valley-Goose Bay because of his support of the Lower Churchill hydroelectric project planned for nearby Muskrat Falls.

The Conservative win — the only one in Newfoundland and Labrador — defied early expectations.  When Penashue first declared his intention to run in the riding,  reporters outnumbered his supporters.

However, Penashue said he was confident that he was attracting significant support.

"We weren't particularly, I guess, shocked when the numbers started changing," Penashue told CBC Radio's St. John's Morning Show  of how the results poured in.

Penashue, who stands a high chance of a cabinet appointment, said issues like the Lower Churchill project and the future of 5 Wing Goose Bay will be on his agenda.

Penashue had come to prominence years ago as an activist against low-level military flights, but now supports expansion  at the air force base.

His pro-development stance has put him at odds with his own mother, legendary Innu activist Elizabeth Penashue.

"Mom is very opposed to any development that destroys the environment, whether it's forestry development, any kind of development, and I understand that," he said.

"But, you know, we all have to move forward and we have to start creating economic development because economic development is what drives the country," he said.

"Without revenue ... we've got nothing. We have no social programs."

Russell was one of two Liberal MPs from Newfoundland and Labrador to lose their seats on Monday night. Siobhan Coady was defeated by NDP candidate Ryan Cleary in St. John's South-Mount Pearl.

Russell came to Penashue's headquarters for a friendly handshake.

"There is a certain peace in me tonight, even though I've lost, because I have a strong faith in the Labrador people," said Russell, who had represented the riding since winning a 2005 byelection.

The Tories had not been able to win an election in Labrador since 1968.