• Ted Fraser

A Monumental Victory: Liberal Party Sweeps Atlantic Canada

Last Monday, the first election results were those of Atlantic Canada. As the night progressed, it became clear that, somehow, the Liberals had miraculously captured every single seat in Nova Scotia, Newfoundland, Prince Edward Island, and New Brunswick. This type of success is absolutely unparalleled. And although many were predicting favourable results for the Liberals in Atlantic Canada, few expected what would be a relatively surprising yet accurate foreshadowing of the nationwide Liberal dominance.

In Nova Scotia’s 11 ridings, the biggest story was that of former MP Megan Leslie, popular NDP environment critic, who lost to Liberal candidate Andy Fillmore. Fillmore won with 26,746 votes, good for 51% of the popular vote, while Leslie received 19,129. Voter turnout in the Halifax riding was an exceptionally high 73.3%, a substantial increase from the 2011 election turnout, which was around 65-70%. Leslie is admired by many in the community, and her loss is more a reflection of the widespread dislike for Stephen Harper and the desire for change. In this case, voters realized the party leading the polls was the Liberal Party, thus having a greater chance at booting Harper from power.

Many pundits have regarded Megan Leslie’s defeat as surprising. However, Haligonians knew that Leslie would not have a role – a cabinet position or otherwise – to play in the increasingly probable Liberal government and Conservative Opposition. If the NDP was leading in the national polls on Election Day, Leslie would have no doubt performed better against Liberal candidate Andy Fillmore.

In New Brunswick, a traditionally Conservative province, the Liberals increased their seat count from one in 2011 to all ten. Voter turnout helped propel them to victory – it was 74.5% in the province, up from 65.6% in 2011. Traditionally, Conservatives have had a more “efficient vote”, in that a large portion of their supporters are older and thus more likely to cast a ballot.

Newfoundland and Labrador’s eight seats proved to be a blend of battles and blowouts. Liberal Judy Foote won the highest share of the vote in the province and in the country, garnering 82% of the popular vote in Bonavista-Burin-Trinity, while in St. Johns’ East, Liberal Nick Whalen received a mere 658 more votes than second place NDP candidate Jack Harris.

The tidal wave of Liberal Red washed over Prince Edward Island as well. Perhaps even more so influenced by the Mike Duffy trial – Duffy was a Conservative senator who represented P.E.I. – all three ridings in the province were taken by the Liberal Party. Conservative candidate and former cabinet member Gail Shea stated that the dislike of Harper was heard on the doorsteps and definitely had an impact on Islanders’ decisions. Shea only managed to capture 29% of the vote, opposed to 54% in 2011.

The Liberals’ success is essentially just the result of uniform rejection of the Harper Conservatives. Stephen Harper has never been wildly popular in Atlantic Canada; he has never devoted much time to the region relative to Quebec, Ontario, and Western Canada. Additionally, his infamous quote about “culture defeat” in 2002 didn’t exactly help his cause. In it he stated, “I think in Atlantic Canada, because of what happened in the decades following Confederation, there is a culture of defeat that we have to overcome. Atlantic Canada's culture of defeat will be hard to overcome as long as Atlantic Canada is actually physically trailing the rest of the country.”

Overall, the Liberals were able to garner so much support in Atlantic Canada because of three main reasons. The significant, widespread dislike of the Harper Conservatives led Atlantic Canadians to look for the most viable option to depose them from power. The late fading of the NDP – stemming from the niqab, an uncharacteristically centrist economic policy that didn’t differ from the Conservatives, and more – aided the Liberals in that now they were perceived as the best option for change. These reasons, coupled with a demographic that would stand to benefit with the Liberals’ middle-class tax cut and infrastructure plan, helped catalyze what was one of the most significant events of the whole federal election.