Tories, NDP and Greens score wins in Atlantic Canada, but Liberals hold fast

HALIFAX — Atlantic Canada's once monochromatic electoral map, awash in Liberal red since 2015, received a slight makeover Monday as the Tories, NDP and Greens punched holes in the Liberals' East Coast fortress.

Four years ago, voters across the region handed Justin Trudeau's party all 32 of the region's seats, which meant the Liberals had nowhere to go but down Monday as the election results rolled in from the four easternmost provinces.

Andrew Scheer's Conservatives and Jagmeet Singh's New Democrats failed to make the big breakthroughs they were hoping for, but Elizabeth May's Green party made history by electing the party's first member in New Brunswick in a hard-fought three-way race.

"The (Liberals) did not go down by as much as some people thought they would — they more than held their own," said Donald Wright, a political science professor at the University of New Brunswick.

With almost all votes counted, Liberals were declared elected in 26 of the region's ridings, the Tories had picked up four and the NDP and Greens each added one.

In Nova Scotia, the NDP was shut out and the Tories managed to win only one of the 11 seats, even though the Liberals had shed no less than five well-known incumbents — among them former Tories Scott Brison and Bill Casey.

Liberal Sean Fraser held on to Central Nova, a race that attracted national attention when country music star George Canyon was recruited as a Tory candidate in late August.

The Liberals also held Brison's former riding, Kings-Hants and Casey's former riding, Cumberland-Colchester, but they lost West Nova to Conservative Chris d'Entremont, a former provincial cabinet minister.

In Cape Breton, where the two seats are considered among the safest Liberal ridings in Canada, the Liberals managed to hold both despite losing veteran incumbents Rodger Cuzner and Mark Eyking.

"Andrew Scheer did not make a warm and robust connection with the voters of Nova Scotia," said Tom Urbaniak, a political science professor at Cape Breton University in Sydney, N.S. "There was some hangover from the (Stephen) Harper era as well."

The former prime minister made himself unwelcome in the region by imposing tougher restrictions on employment insurance, cutting federal jobs and blaming residents for suffering from a "culture of defeat."

The NDP was expected to do well in the Halifax area, but Singh's growing popularity in the polls at the end of the 40-day campaign didn't translate to votes — though the party did place second in the four ridings around the region's largest city.

On the province's southwest shore, Rural Economic Development Minister Bernadette Jordan held on to South Shore-St. Margarets, which had long been a Tory stronghold.

In New Brunswick, the Conservatives won a number of traditionally Tory ridings, with the party's candidates declared elected in Tobique-Mactaquac, New Brunswick Southwest and Fundy Royal.

The province's biggest surprise came in Fredericton, where the Green party's Jenica Atwin won.

"They thought this was impossible," Atwin, a researcher and co-ordinator for a First Nations education organization, told jubilant supporters at a popular brewery in Fredericton.

"I will fight to protect the environment ... Tonight is a dream come true."

In northern New Brunswick and along the Acadian shore, where French-speakers dominate, the Liberals held on to several safe seats, including Beausejour, held by cabinet minister Dominic LeBlanc, and Moncton-Riverview-Dieppe, held by Health Minister Ginette Petitpas Taylor.

In Newfoundland and Labrador, the Liberals won six of the province's seven seats, but the NDP broke the Liberal grip on the region by winning St. John's East. Veteran NDP politician Jack Harris defeated lawyer Nick Whalen, who was elected in 2015 by less than 700 votes.

"We are pleased to start what I hope will be a strong momentum across the country tonight," Harris told ecstatic, orange-clad supporters. "We have a program for people .... We are not going to give up."

Harris served as leader of the province's New Democratic Party from 1992 until 2006, and he also served as the MP for St. John's East in 1987-88 and again from 2008 until 2015.

In neighbouring St. John's South-Mount Pearl, Indigenous Services Minister Seamus O'Regan was re-elected by a substantial margin.

In Prince Edward Island, the Liberals held on to all four seats, despite a concerted push by the Tories to take the western riding of Egmont.

"The Liberal party has traditionally been a champion of the redistributive welfare state, and Atlantic Canada relies on transfers to the provinces and to individuals (from Ottawa)," Wright said. "That, to no small extent, explains their success in this region."

The Liberals' ability to hold on to so many seats in the region, despite a slump in the polls, could have something to do with a corresponding Conservative dip at the end of the campaign.

Trudeau's campaign pledges may have also played a role.

During the first week of the campaign, for example, Trudeau travelled to New Brunswick, where he promised to do more to boost incomes for seniors, widows and widowers — a pledge that struck a chord in a region that is aging faster than the rest of Canada.

And in P.E.I., he promised the Liberals would boost the Canada Child Benefit for children under age one and make maternity and parental leave benefits tax-free.

Across the Atlantic region, health care, climate change and the cost of living appeared to be the top issues on voters' minds during the campaign.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 21, 2019.

— With files from Holly McKenzie-Sutter in St. John's and Kevin Bissett in Fredericton

Michael MacDonald, The Canadian Press