Liberals win Labrador byelection: A sign of things to come for the Conservatives?

Andy Radia
Politics Reporter
Canada Politics

It was dubbed as Justin Trudeau's "first test" as Liberal leader.

As it turns out, the Labrador by-election wasn't much of a test at all.

With 84 of the 91 polls counted, CBC News is predicting that Liberal Yvonne Jones will win the seat in convincing fashion earning approximately 51 per cent of the vote. Conservative Peter Penashue earned 28.5 per cent while NDP candidate Harry Borlase earned 19.9 per cent.

It's estimated that voter turnout is above 53 per cent which is impressive for a byelection.

The vote was triggered, in March, when Tory MP Peter Penashue resigned after it was learned that his 2011 election campaign team had broken federal election rules. According to reports, Penashue, who is still under investigation, overspent his campaign limit by over 20 per cent and even accepted corporate donations, which are illegal under Elections Canada guidelines.

[ Related: Something smells rotten in Peter Penashue’s riding of Labrador ]

Liberal leader Justin Trudeau was quick to release this statement congratulating Jones:

"I am immensely proud of Yvonne Jones and want to offer her my heartfelt congratulations on this victory.

I was thrilled to campaign with Yvonne in Labrador, and am equally looking forward to the strong track record of proven leadership that she brings to both the Liberal caucus and to Parliament on behalf of her riding.

Today we have demonstrated that the Liberal message of hope and hard work is resonating, and that Canadians are tired of the Conservatives’ politics of cynicism, division and fear.

This is just the beginning. Together with Canadians, we will build a thriving middle class and an even greater country."

For his part, Penashue thanked Stephen Harper and said that he was proud his record in Ottawa.

"I've accomplished more in the last 2.5 yrs than any MP for Labrador," he told reporters.

"Labrador lost, in my view"

[ Related: Green Party asks Ethics Commissioner to investigate Stephen Harper’s role in Labrador byelection ]

There are two narratives that one can take away from this byelection.

The first one is that Labrador has always been a Liberal stronghold, notwithstanding 2011, and that the Tories lost because Penashue proved to be unimpressive and gaffe-prone. (In the 2008 general election, the Liberal candidate won the riding with 70 per cent of the popular vote.)

And besides, Conservatives might say, governments in office rarely win byelections.

The second narrative is one that Conservatives won't like: this byelection is a referendum on the government.

According to a Canadian Press Harris-Decima poll released earlier this month, the Tories have fallen to 28 per cent support nationally. Across the country there is a palpable anger and vitriol toward this government. The Harper gang has been accused of losing track of $3.1 billion, of secrecy, of muzzling scientists, of bullying and of trying to manipulate voters in this byelection.

So, which narrative should we believe?

As with most things, the answer probably lies in the middle.

The concerning thing for the Harper Tories, however, is that they've never had to make excuses before.

As explained by Sun News' David Akin, there have been 20 by-elections since 2006 and not once did the Conservatives lose a seat that they had. In fact, they gained three.

The Conservative brain trust are hoping that Penashue's loss isn't the beginning of a new trend.

(Photo courtesy of the Canadian Press)

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