13 March 2007

Tories take Lab West

The provincial progressive Conservatives took the by election in Labrador West with 1666 votes (42%). The NDP came second with 1240 votes. The Labrador Party was third with 670 votes and the Liberals dragged up the rear with 427 votes.

Turnout was 4003 voters, or 54% of the 7474 officially considered eligible to cast ballots.

Given the latest province-wide poll, the Tories are in an interesting spot. Using those poll results, the Tories should have received almost 3,000 votes. Instead they wound up with 42% of votes cast and 22% of the total eligible vote.

It would be hard to get excited about the result, given the large number of votes cast for the other parties. Clearly, there isn't any overwhelming endorsement of the governing party.

If David Cochrane's analysis is correct, the fight broke down to a Tory/NDP fight in Labrador City and a Tory/Labrador Party fight in Wabush. Those circumstances made it fairly clear the Tories would win.

Add to that the influx of Tories - cabinet ministers and the Premier - all of whom suddenly discovered invitations to speak and to visit the district and you can see the level of pressure applied.

Add to that the influx of cash for the new health centre and you can see how seriously the Tories wanted the seat.
"The one thing is, I didn’t want to come in here and be accused of making all kinds of election promises," he stressed promptly. "But there are commitments we have made over a period of time and the biggest one here is the hospital. And the second one that seems to be biggest of issues on people’s minds here is the road…the [Trans Labrador] Highway. We already indicated last year that we are prepared to put $50 million into surfacing the road. The $50 million we allocated last year we couldn’t use because we were waiting for the feds to step up."
Add to all that, the Premier's last minute interview with the local weekly and you can really see a full court press being played. The Premier backed off significantly on his comments about Iron Ore Company's power contract.

How significantly? Well, this time around he never called it akin to the Churchill Falls contract. Take a look at what he was saying in October. Then notice that he woke up to the political realities in Labrador West once he knew - in January - there was a by election coming. Unfortunately that was after Consolidated Thompson took a pass on buying Wabush Mines.
“We are saying, ‘there is an answer in there somewhere,’” he said of the mining company’s request to extend the rate beyond 2014. “You have to move up…it’s a sign of the times. Provinces like Quebec are trying to attract new industry. They are looking for $4.1 cents, so there is a market rate people are paying now. IOC is in a preferred position [for a lower rate] because they did pass it over to us, but we have maintained it and upgraded it. And, when they did pass it over to us, they passed it over for a reason on the basis that the hydro utility would take it over and absorb the administration, the upkeep and everything else. So it hasn’t just been a one-way ticket and free ride. So we basically said, ‘come back to us with an offer and we will look at it’. We are not being unreasonable on it, but we are not saying we are going to give you a rate like 40 years ago and carry it off into the future because you have to remember, we are trying to get new industry to come in here. So, we have to get a certain rate that’s a commercial rate competitive with Quebec but still fair. So we have to get them to a point that is reasonable so that we are in striking distance of new industry that comes in here. That’s the kind of juggling act we have to go through. So, it is not about being hard-assed or tough or stubborn or anything like that.”
Catch that last part? Danny Williams is shifting his message significantly. On the federal government's planned changes to Equalization, Williams told reporters this week that he was taking a less strident approach so that people wouldn't perceive him as being ready to fight anytime, about anything.

He must have his private pollster pointing out what other people noted long ago. The Danny brand just wasn't working wonders no matter how often the Premier's boosters insisted that the sun coming up in the morning was proof of the glories to come now that there would be no more give-aways.

Danny William's Progressive Conservatives are in full election mode, although polling day is likely coming on October as already planned. Take a look at the news and see how much money is being spent to pave every available blade of grass in every district.

While Tories are rightly pleased at winning this by election, they won't be sitting complacently. Rather, the people of Labrador West can count on getting so much attention they'd swear the Confederation Building was being uprooted and moved to Esker, at least, if not right smack between the two major towns in the region.

That's because the Tory's political people can read poll results like anyone else with half a clue. Having so many people vote against the government party, with all the pressure applied right up to the end, will ensure that the head that wears the crown truly does rest uneasily.

So uneasy, in fact, that he's prepared to toss aside his own personal brand as a relentless fighter if there's a chance of picking up the last few votes of approval in any poll. When you're number one by a considerable margin, apparently you try even harder.

That's really the news we should be watching this week.

Danny Williams last few months in office (up to his retirement already announced) are likely going to be full of surprises.