Liberals claim slim majority in Newfoundland and Labrador, as voters tap Furey to lead

Liberals claim slim majority in Newfoundland and Labrador, as voters tap Furey to lead

by Sue Jones
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The Liberal Party has the people’s approval to form the next government of Newfoundland and Labrador, winning 22 of 40 seats after 10 weeks of electoral tumult.

Nl Elxn Debate 20210203 Liberal Leader Andrew Furey

Liberal Leader Andrew Furey, pictured here after a televised debate in St. John’s on Feb. 3, has reclaimed the premiership in Newfoundland and Labrador. (Paul Daly/The Canadian Press)

The Liberal Party has the people’s approval to form the next government of Newfoundland and Labrador, winning 22 of the legislature’s 40 seats after 10 weeks of electoral tumult. 

The long-overdue results, released all at once after weeks of ballot counting, hand the reins back to incumbent Premier Andrew Furey.

The Liberals claimed 48.2 per cent of the total vote and added two seats, in a chaotic election that saw both opposition party leaders fail to reclaim their status as elected officials.

Progressive Conservative Leader Ches Crosbie was not re-elected to the district of Windsor Lake, losing to the Liberals’ John Hogan by more than 500 votes. 

NDP Leader Alison Coffin also lost her seat in St. John’s East-Quidi Vidi by just over 50 votes to John Abbott of the Liberals.

The PCs now have 13 seats, down two of their members since the House of Assembly dissolved in January. They won 38.8 per cent of the total vote.

  • Here is the list of winners in the Newfoundland and Labrador election 

The New Democrats have two seats, re-electing Jim Dinn of St. John’s Centre and Jordan Brown of Labrador West. The party walked away with eight per cent of the vote.

Three Independents have also been re-elected.

The vast majority of incumbents will continue on as members of the House of Assembly, as voters chose overwhelmingly to stay the course.

Watch CBC’s election special:

Furey spoke to the province at 12:30 p.m. NT at Liberal Party headquarters in downtown St. John’s, meeting with applause from the COVID-restricted crowd of 50. 

“To continue as premier is to stand as a fighter, in a proud legacy of fighters, for Newfoundland and Labrador,” he said, nodding to several major economic challenges threatening the province.

Furey, a former surgeon and political newcomer, has several months of experience under his belt after taking over as head of the reigning Liberal Party — and premier — in August. 

The Liberals have steered Newfoundland and Labrador since 2015, when they took power from the Tories in a majority vote. 

The party then won a subsequent general election in 2019, but it dropped seven seats, splitting the House of Assembly and forming a minority government.

The Liberals must now contend with the province’s most pressing issues — most notably its sputtering budget and employment rate, both of which depend largely on struggling oil and tourism sectors, and its staggering debt load from the maligned Muskrat Falls hydroelectricity project.

WATCH | Premier Andrew Furey delivers victory speech in St. John’s:

Andrew Furey Speech.jpg?Crop=1

Liberal leader calls for unity after winning controversial N.L. government 9:15

Furey’s win drew the attention of his federal counterpart, who offered congratulations Saturday afternoon. 

“Since he took office last year, Premier Furey’s leadership and collaboration have been critical in the fight against COVID-19,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said in a written statement. 

The statement refers to what Trudeau frames as impending co-operation on hydroelectric projects and job growth.

Opposition takes hit

The NDP’s Coffin addressed her party and the public just after noon on Saturday, hugging her campaign team before taking the podium.

“What a fine-looking group of candidates,” she said, beaming, after a long initial pause. But her optimism quickly pivoted to critique, as Coffin condemned the embattled election as “a resounding lesson in democracy” and suggested the historically low turnout would bring legal challenges.

Less than 50 per cent of eligible voters cast a ballot.

WATCH | Alison Coffin says ‘dark’ outcome for democracy in N.L. vote

Alison Coffin Video.jpg?Crop=1

Defeated NDP leader addresses supporters in St. John’s 7:46

Crosbie, who did not hold a public event on Saturday, released a pre-recorded statement to media just before 12:30 p.m. NT, saying he would “take a few days” to reflect on the results and speak with his caucus and family to determine “where we go from here.”

He thanked the voters of Windsor Lake for the opportunity to represent them. Crosbie, the son of late politician John Crosbie, has led the PCs since 2018, when he was elected as head of the party without holding a seat.

He later claimed the Windsor Lake district in a byelection and was voted in by constituents in the 2019 general election.

Crosbie has declined media interviews on Saturday.

WATCH | Ches Crosbie concedes after losing seat in Windsor Lake:

Ches Crosbie Concession March 27 2021.Jpg?Crop=1

PC leader releases recorded statement on 2nd straight electoral loss 3:15

Sideways election

Saturday’s results come 2½ months after the election call.

They satisfy a provincial law that required Furey to trigger an election within 12 months of his swearing-in, legitimizing his leadership through approval from the general population.

At the time, in mid-January, the province had five active cases of COVID-19. 

The Tories pushed last fall to amend that 12-month rule and avoid holding an election in a public health crisis, but the Liberals persevered amid significant approval ratings that placed them well ahead of their competitors.

Since Furey called the election in January, opposition leaders have fought relentlessly to portray him as an opportunist who set a February election date in the middle of a notoriously chaotic North Atlantic winter. They also pointed out repeatedly that the election would occur well before widespread COVID-19 vaccination.

Nl Elxn Debate 20210203 Newfoundland And Labrador Election Leaders

The Liberals’ Furey, left, Crosbie of the Progressive Conservatives and the NDP’s Coffin squared off in the 2021 race. (Paul Daly/The Canadian Press)

The virus remained largely dormant for the first three weeks of the campaign, however, as candidates donned masks for physically distanced door-knocking and campaign stops as voting day, Feb. 13, approached.

Snow and wind didn’t derail the election, after all — but the virus nearly did.

Furey’s opponents leapt on the twist of events in early February, when three weeks into the campaign, a coronavirus outbreak unexpectedly brewed in the lead-up to election day.

The Tories and New Democrats leveraged that infection spike, attempting to throw into question Furey’s decision to open polling stations in a pandemic and leaving him continuously on the defensive in the final days of the campaign.

Infections, meanwhile, continued to spiral.

In-person voting nixed at 11th hour

On Feb. 11 — two days before provincial polls were scheduled to open — public health officials announced 100 new cases in a single day, a staggering jump in a province that had seen 500 cases total in the 11 preceding months.

Twelve hours before polling stations were to open, Newfoundland and Labrador’s top doctor announced sweeping public health measures in an unexpected Friday night news conference, confirming the presence of a coronavirus variant responsible for sickening hundreds in a span of days.

Moments later, the chief electoral officer cancelled the Feb. 13 election, moving the goalposts for voters and sending residents scrambling to submit requests for mail-in voting kits.

Nl Elxn Bruce Chaulk 20210219

Chief electoral officer Bruce Chaulk has faced several unprecedented challenges over the course of the campaign. (Paul Daly/The Canadian Press)

The populace then contended with shifting deadlines and busy phone lines at the elections office, while concerns emerged over ballots sent out with incorrect information and a lack of ballots in Indigenous languages.

It took the elections agency weeks to prepare, post, receive, sort and count those ballots, leading to the longest election in provincial memory. 

Elections Newfoundland and Labrador announced earlier this week they would reveal their tallies on Saturday at noon, a full month and a half over schedule and two days after the final deadline to submit a vote.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

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