N.L. voters re-elect Dwight Ball’s Liberals to form minority government
ST. JOHN’S, N.L. — Voters in Newfoundland and Labrador have elected a minority Liberal government, confounding critics and pollsters who said the incumbent party had been hobbled by a stalled economy and a disinterested electorate.
With most of the polls reporting, the Liberals were elected or leading in 20 ridings, the Tories were elected or leading in 15, the New Democrats had three and there were two Independents. A total of 21 seats is needed for a majority.
Led by Premier Dwight Ball, the Liberals secured their second term in office. Ball, a 62-year-old former pharmacist, easily won his seat in western Newfoundland.
The Liberals had history on their side. Since the easternmost province joined Confederation in 1949, no governing party has won less than three elections in a row.
When the election was called, the Liberals held 27 seats in the 40-seat legislature, the Tories had eight, the New Democratic Party held two and there were three Independents.
The Liberals were considered front-runners at the beginning of the campaign, but the Tories — led by lawyer Ches Crosbie — closed the gap toward the end of the race. Crosbie won his Windsor Lake riding in the provincial capital.
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During the campaign, Ball stressed that the province’s economic picture had improved by citing an increase in employment over the past year. Statistics Canada figures show 7,000 more people were working in the province in March when compared with the same month last year.
Ball also promised he would balance the province’s books by the end of his term in office — the same deadline promised by Crosbie. The Liberals have pledged to scrap the tax on auto insurance, draft a new autism action plan and lift the age cap for those who qualify for insulin pumps.
As for Crosbie, it appears the electorate wasn’t won over by his pledge to do things differently.
Part of the problem was that his Conservatives have taken much of the blame for delays and blown budgets plaguing the Muskrat Falls hydroelectric project, still under construction in central Labrador.
The megaproject, which the Tories approved in late 2012, is two years behind schedule, and the projected cost has doubled to more than $12.7 billion.
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Crosbie, the 65-year-old son of former federal cabinet minister John Crosbie, has been stung by forecasts suggesting residential electricity rates will double by 2021 to pay off the project.
As well, an ongoing public inquiry has hurt the Tories. Since last fall, former Tory cabinet ministers and premiers have testified about alleged mismanagement and cost overruns.
Debate over the Muskrat Falls project energized a televised leaders debate earlier this month.
When Ball asked Crosbie if he was proud of his party’s role in the Muskrat Falls project, Crosbie countered by suggesting Ball should apologize for the wildly lopsided deal former Liberal premier Joey Smallwood signed with Quebec to build the Churchill Falls hydroelectric project in Labrador.
Ball shot back: “The Muskrat Falls project has put quite the burden on Newfoundlanders and Labradorians and Mr. Cr
Crosbie …. still will not say that that project was a mistake. Mr. Crosbie and his PC friends left our province in turmoil.”
Crosbie’s campaign had its share of glitches — like the time he planned to make an announcement at the legislature but was kicked out for failing to make the proper arrangements.
As well, the party faced embarrassment when Crosbie announced Tory candidate Michael Normore would be ejected from the caucus if he won his riding in Labrador. Normore had used social media to say he was opposed to legal abortion and same-sex marriage — views incompatible with the party’s positions.
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The NDP, led by former economics professor Alison Coffin, nominated only 14 candidates.
As for Ball, his party had to contend with the fact that the province’s economy has sputtered since world oil prices plummeted in late 2014.
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In 2015, when his party was elected to govern, Ball promised no public service layoffs and no tax increases. But the province’s bleak economic outlook forced him to break both of those promises, causing a public backlash.
With a population of 525,000, the province’s debt is more than $13 billion — the heaviest per capita burden in the country.
In 2018, it was the only province to record a drop in gross domestic product, and its debt-to-GDP ratio –considered a good benchmark of economic health — stood at 47 per cent, by far the worst in Canada.
WATCH: Newfoundland PC’s Crosbie slams snap election, calls on NDP and Independents to join them
And even though the population of the three Maritime provinces is growing at its fastest pace in decades, Newfoundland and Labrador’s is declining.
© 2019 The Canadian Press