Saturday, March 16, 2013

A Look at Labrador

Click to view larger image.

A by-election shall (hopefully) be called soon for the riding of Labrador, following the resignation of its incumbent MP Peter Penashue. Why did he resign, you ask? Oh, because hes unscrupulous, 'tis all. Penashue broke several Elections Canada rules about donations from corporations, and after months of being harangued by the Opposition, finally made the decision to resign. The catch is that Penashue will be running in the by-election, to succeed himself. Way to pick your cabinet members, Harper.

But, lets jump right into it, starting with...

Riding History

Before 1988, the single riding of “Labrador” did not exist, and was instead lumped together with the northern portions of Newfoundland between Grand Falls in the south and White Bay in the north. This previous riding, amazingly called Grand Falls-White Bay-Labrador, elected only Liberals between 1949 – the province’s inception into Confederation – and 1968, when PC candidate and Newfoundland MHA Ambrose Peddle won a close fight against previous Liberal incumbent Andrew Chatwood. Peddle didn’t last long, however, and was defeated in 1972 by long-time Liberal MP and Trudeau/Turner cabinet member Bill Rompkey.

Rompkey was elevated to the Senate in 1996, and the subsequent by-election was won by the late Lawrence O’Brien for the Liberals, who died in office in December 2004. The 2005 by-election was won by former MP Todd Russell, who stayed in office until being upset by Conservative Peter Penashue in 2011 by 79 votes (!). Penashue became the first Innu cabinet member in Harper’s majority cabinet.

The basic tilt of this riding is, like much of Newfoundland, Liberal, as only two of the eight MPs having the privilege of representing the area were not part of the Grits. I suspect if you were to look back as well, and see the poll-by-poll breakdowns of the region, Labrador has stayed mostly red between 1949 and the 1990’s. Peddle, who was the only PC candidate to win the riding, was actually from the Grand Falls-Windsor area, not Labrador.

So the important time period here is after 1988, when the redistribution put Labrador is in its own riding. Up until Penashue’s win, the Liberals were pretty much in a dominate position between ’88 and ’11, going below 50% support only once, in the 1996 by-election following Rompkey’s elevation to the Senate. This was during the middle of the then-Chrétien government’s push against the deficit that affected everything from EI to Fisheries, things dear to this region. A strong showing then by the Reform candidate was not repeated in the subsequent two elections, and was an obvious protest vote.
2011 Election

So, what the heck happened in 2011 that handed this riding over to Penashue, even if it was by the smallest of margins?

Special ballots not included in chart

By all accounts, Penashue was a star candidate, being an active leader of the Innu community in Labrador. This is fairly evident when you look at the chart above, as well as the poll map at the top of this post. Penashue won all of the northern polls and most of the Innu-dominated polls, which were dominated by Todd Russell in previous elections. That being said, most of Penashue’s support came from central Labrador, where Happy Valley-Goose Bay (the most populated part of the riding) is located. This area is
more mixed between Aboriginal populations and whites (evident by HV-GB’s population, which is 63% white to 36% Aboriginal), and seems to be the Conservative’s traditional “base” in Labrador, evident by the PC wins here provincially, and the 2006 poll-by-poll results.

In 2011, the NDP’s base is fairly obvious. In West Labrador, where Labrador City and Wabush are located (and where the NDP do the best provincially in Labrador), the NDP rushed past its two opponents. The area is big on mining, forestry, and hydro companies, thus there is a big union presence in the area. Its also mostly white, with very little in the way of an Aboriginal population. Unfortunately for the NDP, this kind of support wasn’t seen anywhere else.

On the southern coast of Labrador, we see where the Liberals reign. This area is covered by Yvonne Jones’ riding of Cartwright-L’Anse-au-Clair, important given her candidacy. The area is dominated by tiny hamlets and fishing villages, the largest of which are L’Anse-au-Loup (pop. 550) and Cartwright (pop. 516), and despite the names, no one seems to speak French there. I suspect the Liberal domination has to do with high unemployment, the rural Protestant nature of the area, and tradition – but I don’t know. I just like the pretty colour.

By-election Outlook

I could say from the outset that the chances of the Liberals winning back are good – and they are! For once. However, this is a by-election and we all know how weird these things can be, as we saw with Victoria and Calgary Centre only a few months ago.

A lot will depend on the candidates. We know who will likely be running for the Conservatives – Peter Penashue. Unless he gets kicked out in a nomination battle or something, he will be the government candidate. And why not? Unless one of the two provincial PC MHAs resign and jump to the federal ship, Penashue is the highest profile Conservative the federal party can get in Labrador.

It also seems as if the Conservative association is supportive of Penashue, so if he wants it, he'll get it pretty much unconditionally. However, if he doesn't want it (who could blame him for not wanting to run under a cloud of corruption allegations), there are a couple of possibilities: one is former Torngat Mountains MHA and cabinet member Patty Pottle, the other is current Happy Valley-Goose Bay mayor Leo Abbass. We'll see what happens, though.

On the Liberal side, we could have a race. On the one hand, we have former MP Todd Russell, who is said to be considering running again - but he does have other duties right now, and may not want to slog out another campaign. On the other hand, Yvonne Jones is pretty much confirmed to be running for the nomination. However, Jones' base is in an area where we already dominate, and I'm not sure what her appeal is like beyond Cartwright-L'Anse au Clair.

For the NDP… uh, I dunno. Jacob Larkin, the 2011 candidate, could run again. 2011 Labrador West candidate Tom Harris, or 2007 Labrador West candidate Darrel Brenton, might also make good candidates for the NDP out of their base. I don’t really see the NDP going anywhere in Labrador, however, so I don’t think it matters too much.

The other consideration is, of course, the Muskrat Falls projection, and other developments. Penashue is seen as fully supportive of the project, while Russell and Jones have more muddled positions. I'm not from the region, and I don't know how the issue plays out over there, but what the candidates and their parties say their positions are will probably play into the race. That being said, the by-election isn't over Muskrat Falls and so on, its over Penashue's stupidity. Maybe it won't matter at all.

It'll be an interesting race, folks. That much I do know.


  1. I wouldn't be counting the NDP out because you are basing the past onto the future, and ignoring provincial political party influences.

    NL NDP Surges to Tie PCs in Voter Support

    Take note: "PCs (38%, down from 46% in November 2012), which is tied with support for the NDP (39%, up from 31%). Support for the Liberals is stable at 22 percent (compared with 23%), while less than one percent prefer the Green Party (unchanged)."

    1. I don't find the CRA poll of provincial intentions useful, not for federal politics in Labrador. Different arenas with different personalities and concerns. You can keep it in mind as a "wild card" factor, but this race looks set to be a Con-Lib fight again. I won't change that assumption unless the NDP field a really strong candidate, and I have no idea who that could be - do you?

    2. Jones running federally means 1 less seat for the NL Liberals at the provincial level; a seat that the NDP could take in a by-election. Since that would give them 1 seat over the Libs, they'd become the Official Opposition.

    3. What makes you think the NDP will even have a shot at winning Cartwright-L'Anse-au-Clair. It isn't as if that riding is especially friendly towards them, even before Jones was MHA.

  2. The federal NDP have always done better in NL than their provincial party. If the NDP get the candidate they are hoping for here then they'll have a real possibility of winning the by-election.

  3. A strong NDP candidate could help, not hurt us. Jones is strongest in the already-dark-red areas while the NDP's growth potential is all in areas that are blue.

  4. The NDP have the potential of winning a majority of support in both Labrador West and central. Both these areas are larger than they were in 2011 so a majority there for them could make it a close race.

    1. The NDP could win the riding, while our vote increases.

    2. I'm not saying an NDP win *can't* happen, but I see no reason *for* it to happen. Not yet, anyways. I find the speculation from Dippers about how easy it will be to win this ring to be a bit premature.

    3. Some political commentators in NL say it's not unimaginable that the NDP could win here, even tough Jones (if she secures the omination) will be the front runner. The federal NDP led in the most recent poll for NL.