The story of the night is the loss of two cabinet ministers and the Premier’s parliamentary assistant in gains by the New Democrats in St. John’s and by the Liberals in Torngat Mountains.
This – coupled with the fights in seats across the province – was the real story of the election. The conventional media stuck with the bullshit “race for second place” theme right up until the last of their coverage on election night.
Natural resources minister Shawn Skinner went down to defeat in St. John’s Centre, losing to New Democrat Gerry Rogers. Skinner was a key player in the Dunderdale cabinet holding down one of the more important portfolios. That didn’t matter.
Aboriginal affairs minister Patty Pottle lost her seat in Torngat Mountains to Liberal randy Edmonds.
In St. John’s North, New Democrat Party president Dale Kirby pounded Bob Ridgley. This one in particular stands out. Ridgley is part of the Osborne-Ridgley dynasty that had a stranglehold on three St. John’s seats. Ridgley was parliamentary assistant to first Danny Williams and then Kathy Dunderdale.
Seat counts based on opinion polls of questionable accuracy turned out to be a mug’s game of the first order. What was supposed to be 43 Tories, four New Democrats and two Liberals, turned out to be 37 Tories, six Grits and five Dippers.
At some point people will put seat projection artists right next to the psychic astrologers election forecasters in their news line-up.
This is a record low turn-out, beating Danny Williams’ record set in 2007. Preliminary numbers for Tuesday night put the turn-out at 58.3% of eligible voters.
Just to put 2011 in context, here’s a chart showing the party shares of eligible vote since 1949.
The Tories just got re-elected with the smallest share of eligible vote of any government formed since 1949. They beat the Tories’ 1975 previous low score of 33% by one point.
For those who missed it, NTV/Telelink put the don’t know/will not vote at 42% in its election poll. That works out to 58% turnout. Bang-on. Some of the other polls had the same category as low as 18%.
The Tories wound up with 32% of the eligible vote. NTV had it down as 35%. Liberals got 11%, while NTV had them at 7.4%. NTV had the NDP at 15%. They got 14%.
NTV/Telelink is - consistently - the most accurate political poll done in the province bar none. SRBP will do a detailed comparison of the polls and the results in another post.
While all three political parties will likely swap out their leaders before the next election, the Liberals are the ones with an immediate leadership problem.
Caretaker Kevin Aylward lost his seat. He could carry on but common sense and convention would tell him to go. The Liberals need to change their leader and their executive board sooner rather than later in order to start the massive rebuilding effort ahead of them.
This election showed there is still life in the party, despite the gaffe-riddled campaign at the provincial level. The Liberals can’t afford to waste time. Preparation for the next election has to start today.
The New Democrat leadership will pose some interesting choices for the party. Expect Dale Kirby to be a leading contender based in no small measure on the profile he will likely win once the House opens in the spring. He may not be the best choice, but he will be a leading contender.
The other thing the Dippers have to figure out is when to say goodbye to Lorraine and usher in the new era.
Part of the NDP calculation will depend on how fast the Tories dump Kathy Dunderdale. She was an interim leader who decided to stay. The party lost big in its bedrock and had fights in plenty of other seats.
Much like the 1999 election heralded the beginning of the Liberal end, the 2011 could be the turning point for the ruling Tories. If they continue to coast – with or without Dunderdale - they will be facing an even stronger NDP assault. If the Liberals get their act together, the combination of Liberal and NDP attacks could end the Conservative dynasty.
The Tories need to change. The only problem is that a change before the fourth year of their mandate will trigger an election. They might not be ready for another election so soon after the current one, especially with a raft of members ready to retire.
- srbp -