Nfld. & Labrador·Analysis

The new poll, and the once-mighty Liberals

David Cochrane looks at what new poll results mean for the three parties leading into the last leg of the election campaign.

The first election I ever covered was Brian Tobin's second majority in 1999. At the time the Liberals were at the height of their power.

They had money. They had youth. They had momentum. And — of course — they had Tobin.

So it is more than a little gobsmacking for me to see the Liberals in third place in recent polls and as low as 13 per cent in the latest data from MQO.

The trend line doesn't just suggest decline. It screams full-scale collapse. The sarcastic phrase you hear from PCs and NDPers (over their stifled giggling) is "the once-mighty Liberal party."

Once mighty, indeed.

I doubt the Liberals will pull a low as 13 per cent on Election Day. There are still die-hard pockets of Red in rural Newfoundland and Labrador.

But I wouldn't be surprised to see the Liberals in the single-digits in the greater St. John's area. Their rural focused campaign does — mathematically at least — make it possible to form opposition, and even government. But it makes it less likely. And it makes it harder to finance.

Where the money is

Like it or not, the bulk of the wealth in this province is in St. John's and that's where parties have the most luck raising cash. The Liberals had money problems long before they started musing about "diverting oil money" to rural areas (presumably at the expense of St. John's), and when Liberal candidate Danny Dumaresque slammed the idea of giving any extra cash to St. John's, the sound you heard (over the collective gasp of the endangered urban Liberals) was the thump of every chequebook in the capital city slamming shut.

A campaign without polls is like a car without wipers and headlights. The Liberals are driving blind, counting on luck, hope and die-hard rural loyalty.

The Liberals say they have enough money to make it through this campaign. But you won't see any glitzy television ads because that's too expensive.

The Liberals say they don't believe the polls, either because their candidates are telling them different, or because they question the political affiliation of the polling companies.

But the Liberals have no polling of their own because polls are too expensive.

A campaign without polls is like a car without wipers and headlights. The Liberals are driving blind, counting on luck, hope and die-hard rural loyalty.

Unfortunately, it is getting dark and starting to rain.

One party's loss is another's gain

The NDP and the PCs have to take joy in the latest numbers. But the Liberal collapse - particularly in St. John's - gives the NDP a chance to flip some Tory seats.

Vote efficiency and ground game will be the focus heading into Oct. 11, as there is still a chance the NDP come second in vote, but third in seats.

With two full weeks and the debates behind us, here's my updated list of seats the campaigns are targetting for gains. This is based on literally dozens of conversations with people in all three parties.

This is not an exhaustive list and you should also read my earlier column on 10 seats to watch, found here.

PC targets

Port de Grave. The Liberals are confident they will hold this seat. The PCs are equally confident they will flip it. Former MHA Roland Butler told reporters this week that Liberal candidate Leanne Hussey is getting a better response than he ever did. The Conservatives are convinced Glenn Littlejohn takes it this time.

The Straits-White Bay North. The NDP believe candidate Christopher Mitchelmore is bleeding support away from the incumbent Liberal Marshall Dean. That's creating a scenario where PC candidate Selma Pike could come up the middle.

NDP targets

St. John's Centre and St. John's North. The NDP strength is in St. John's and the seats currently held by Natural Resources Minister Shawn Skinner and backbencher Bob Ridgley represent their best chance at gains. Gerry Rogers and Dale Kirby are, respectively, breathing down the necks of their Tory opponents — something even PCs will admit — and the final week of this campaign could decide these seats.

Burin-Placentia West. Clyde Jackman is another cabinet minister on the hot seat. Julie Mitchell has a shot here, which is why this district was the target of Lorraine Michael's first trip out of the capital city.

Labrador West. Tom Harris is a relative newcomer to the region, but the Steelworkers union rep has a chance to win this seat back for the NDP. Conservative Nick McGrath remains the other leading contender for this seat.

Liberal targets

Bay of Islands. Eddie Joyce has had a lot of momentum over the first two weeks. Joyce is a relentless street fighter of a politician looking to avenge this 2007 loss to PC incumbent Terry Loder.

Humber Valley. The Conservatives feel good about Darryl Kelly's chances of holding this seat, but acknowledge that Dwight Ball is a tough opponent. The Liberals think this is theirs to lose.

St. Barbe. Liberal Jim Bennett's campaign has been boosted by the presence of his wife Sandra Pupatello, an outgoing Ontario Liberal cabinet minister. Pupatello has apparently infused Bennett's campaign with strong organization and professionalism. The PCs point to the fact that Wally Young has been counted out before, but never beaten.

Humber West. Vaughn Granter still has that new-MHA smell, having replaced Danny Williams in this seat less than a year ago. The Liberals think Donna Luther has real momentum and can win this seat. The PCs are confident of a hold.

Lake Melville. Chris Montague is back for the second straight election for the Liberals. Keith Russell is running for the PCs and has a reputation as a bit of a polarizing figure (as does Montague). By all accounts Arlene Michelin is having a strong showing for the NDP. Liberals in Happy Valley-Goose Bay think they can win this if the three-way vote split breaks their way. PCs say the same thing.

St. George's-Stephenville EastAs I wrote earlier, if there is one seat the Liberals have to win, it's this one. They simply can't lose their leader's seat for the second straight election. Kevin Aylward is running on home turf, but he is running against the Conservative House Leader. Joan Burke plays politics with a hard edge that rubs some people the wrong way. But the PCs believe she will hold this seat. The Liberals believe — and hope — that Aylward will win this seat.