Liberals Will Try to Retrieve Labrador

Given how obstinant Stephen Harper is about sticking behind Cabinet Ministers embroilled in cotroversy and how disdainful the Tories have been any time Elections Canada suggests they’re in the wrong, it was a bit of a surprise to see Peter Penashue not only step down as Intergovernmental Affairs Minister, but resign his seat so that he can try to legitimize his mandate in a by-election. I’m left trying to deduce some kind of sinister motive in all of this but maybe, just maybe, the Tories and Penashue decided to do the right thing. I know, I know – it feels weird typing that.

Losing Penashue as Intergovernmental Affairs Minister is not a big blow to the Harper government – over the past 7 years, there have been more Bigfoot sightings than Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs sightings. The bigger loss would be the by-election, and given Penashue only won by 70 votes last time, that’s a very real possibility.

2011
Penashue (CPC) 40%
Russell (Lib) 39%
Larkin (NDP) 20%
Barrett (Green) 1%

2008
Russell (Lib) 70%
Artiss (NDP) 18%
Lewis (CPC) 8%
McLeod (Green) 4%

2006
Russell (Lib) 51%
Goudie (CPC) 40%
Larkin (NDP) 9%
Zwicker (Green) 1%

The 2008 outlier reflects the success of Danny Williams’ ABC campaign, so most people are expecting a close Liberal-CPC battle. Of course, the NDP is on the rise provincially and 20% is not an insignificant base to build from. Toss in local issues and dynamics, and you’ve suddenly got the makings of a very interesting by-election.

One imagines the media narrative will be that this marks “Justin Trudeau’s first test”, but given the circumstances around Penashue’s resignation, I would think it’s more likely to play out as a referendum on the current MP. When Sheila Copps resigned over the GST in 1996, she was re-elected but saw her share of the popular vote dip by 22 points. Penashue’s margin is far narrower than that, but the two case studies are so different and by-elections are so unique that it would be foolish to assume anything.

Indeed, all signs point to a very competitive by-election that any of the three parties could take with the right candidate. Given the rest of 2013 figures to be a slow one politically, the Labrador by-election will certainly be worth watching.

Posted on by CalgaryGrit in by elections

About CalgaryGrit

A former Calgary Liberal, now living in Toronto. My writings on politics can be found at www.calgarygrit.ca and online at the National Post.

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7 Responses to Liberals Will Try to Retrieve Labrador

  1. Vancouverois

    This will be an interesting one to watch!

    When does it have to be called by?

  2. Vancouverois

    (Er, also – obstina*nt*? Or obstina*te*?)

  3. Sean C.
    • CalgaryGrit

      Yeah, with either Jones or Russell, the Liberals should have a strong candidate – which obviously matters a lot in a by-election.

  4. hosertohoosier

    A by-election in Labrador may hold some advantages for Harper (though he’ll probably lose). Labrador is the site of numerous long-standing disputes over energy projects with Quebec. Churchill Falls, Muskrat Falls, etc. Many of these energy projects are potentially important for the Maritimes as a whole (namely Nova Scotia).

    Forcing a newly elected Trudeau to take a position on such issues will necessarily put Trudeau in a quandary. Does he risk looking to pro-Quebec, or give up ground in Quebec? Harper understands this – it was the CF-18 that turned him from a Tory to a Reformer.

    • CalgaryGrit

      Agreed. This one is going to get some national attention for that very reason. But I’d wager it will force all the leaders into difficult positions.

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