Liberal dominance waning in Atlantic Canada
The end came not with a bang, but a whimper this week when a big chunk of the Liberals’ Atlantic fortress slid slowly into the Saint John River.
Just over three years ago, Justin Trudeau’s Liberals won all 32 seats in Atlantic Canada and, a few months later in Newfoundland and Labrador, Dwight Ball’s Liberals ousted the incumbent Progressive Conservatives, turning the region a monochromatic Grit red.
A year from now, the political map in Atlantic Canada will be a lighter shade of rouge, where it’s red at all.
The change in the political palette got started, albeit haltingly, in New Brunswick where, by default, the Conservatives replaced the Liberal government on Friday.
The Picture Province’s somewhat befuddled and befuddling electorate was unable to produce a decisive result in September, giving the Liberals the most votes but one seat fewer than the Conservatives.
The Liberals couldn’t sustain a minority government, so now it’s Premier Blaine Higgs and the Tories’ turn to try, with help from an anti-bilingual populist outfit called the People’s Alliance that elected the three MLAs the Conservatives need to cobble together a bare majority in the legislature.
Over the next 12 months, the region’s 32 seats in Parliament will be contested in a federal election, and voters in Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland and Labrador will pass verdicts on their provincial Liberal governments. Nova Scotians won’t vote provincially until 2021, when the Liberals’ skinny two-seat majority will be on the line.
The 2019 federal election is shaping up as a referendum on the Trudeau government’s carbon-pricing plan, opposed vehemently by Conservatives. Outside of Nova Scotia, which has a cap-and-trade regime, East Coast Liberal governments are reluctant to put a price on carbon, too.
That leaves most of the region’s 32 Liberal MPs swimming against a tide of opposition to carbon pricing that seems certain to include P.E.I.’s and possibly Newfoundland’s Liberal governments.
New Brunswick is already out of the national carbon-pricing plan and is one of four provinces Ottawa has said will face a federal carbon tax.
A polarizing issue like the carbon tax will put seats in play, including some in Atlantic Canada. Plus, more than a few Atlantic ridings were swept up by a red electoral wave that won’t be repeated a year from now when seats can be expected to revert back to the Tories or NDP, regardless of the ballot question.
Two provincial Liberal governments in Atlantic Canada face voters next year, although under very different political circumstances.
While Dwight Ball’s Newfoundland government has experienced its share of troubles, including members who breached the House of Assembly’s code of conduct and now sit as independents, it seems to have overcome all that, and climbed back to the top of public opinion polls. The election is a year away, but the Liberal government’s re-election seems more likely than not.
Prince Edward Island is an entirely different matter. For the first time, a third party – the Greens – have emerged as a serious contender on the Island and are leading in most recent polls.
Island Conservatives, who haven’t governed since 2007, are in search of a new leader and although Liberal Premier Wade MacLauchlan is in his first term, his party is starting to show the wear of more than a decade in office.
Both the Island Liberals and Conservatives oppose a carbon tax, while the high-polling Greens support a price on carbon. That could make for interesting three-way races and set the stage for the Island’s first non-majority government since 1890 when the Conservatives and Liberals tied with 15 seats apiece.
Carbon pricing is less an issue in Nova Scotia, where the Liberal government has delivered a consumerfriendly cap-and-trade program.
The province’s Conservatives have been gaining on Premier Stephen McNeil’s Liberals in some recent polls and may yet get a bump in popularity that accompanies a new leader. Tim Houston won the Tory leadership in late October.
The wild card in Nova Scotia is Premier McNeil’s future. While he’s said he plans on running for a third term, the provincial political playground is rife with rumours that he’ll step down before that 2021 election.
With federal and provincial elections a year or more away, anything can happen. But, at this moment in time, it looks like Liberal dominance in Atlantic Canada is nearing the end of its current run.