Tories sweep to power in Newfoundland and Labrador

Voters in Newfoundland and Labrador have ended 15 years of Liberal rule and elected a Progressive Conservative government

Progressive Conservative Leader Danny Williams will be the next premier of Newfoundland and Labrador, ending almost 15 years of Liberal rule.

The charismatic 53-year-old leads a Tory blue wave of change into the province's House of Assembly, routing a Liberal government that had been in power since 1989. He won his own district, Humber West, with about two-thirds of the popular vote.

"We are overjoyed and overwhelmed," he told supporters at party campaign headquarters in Corner Brook. "It was a flawless campaign in which we took the high road all the way."

The Progressive Conservatives took 34 of the 48 seats in the province's House of Assembly.

"My team has received a mandate to seize control of our own destiny... finally."

Williams outlined his priorities: job creation and economic development with a focus "to put Newfoundlanders and Labradorians first. The giveaways end right here and right now."

Williams said his government had an "eight year plan" to deal with problems which "did not happen overnight and cannot be fixed overnight."

The governing Liberals under Premier Roger Grimes took a dozen districts.

Liberal Leader Grimes and NDP Leader Jack Harris were re-elected in their districts.

"I know there's great disappointment in this hall," Grimes told dejected supporters.

Liberals will adjust to their new "honourable" role, provide the best opposition and hold the government accountable, said Grimes.

"We'll roll up our sleeves and knuckle down to that," he said. "Our province is on the verge of an economic renaissance that's going to lead the whole country. And that's something to be proud of."

The defeat of Roger Grimes' government became obvious as his cabinet ministers began to fall. Seven ministers plus the speaker were unseated. Some, such as Works minister Jim Walsh and Mines minister Wally Noel, had been in government since 1989. Intergovernmental Affairs minister Tom Lush had been a member for 26 years.

The NDP's status in the province didn't change, as the party held on to two seats.

"We'll be there," a disappointed NDP leader Jack Harris told supporters, "standing up for the things that matter to all of us, not just parts of our society."

But he called the party's holding on to its two seats a "bittersweet" win, saying the voters' desire for a change of government "was greater than the hope that we brought forward for real change."

Williams took over as Conservative party leader in April 2001 and was elected to the provincial assembly later that year.

Throughout the campaign Williams, who is a millionaire and former cable-TV executive, promised to donate his premier's salary to charity, as he has done with his Opposition leader's paycheque.

Grimes took office in February 2001 after a divisive Liberal leadership race that some observers feel still haunts the party.

Voter turnout was 72 per cent, up 13 per cent from the previous election in 1999.