ST. JOHN’S, N.L. – Newfoundland and Labrador’s Progressive Conservative leader began his government’s campaign for re-election Thursday as Paul Davis tries to buck a trend that has seen the Liberals dominate Atlantic Canada’s recent political history.
At his first campaign event, Davis acknowledged the party is facing a difficult task as it tries to win a fourth straight election.
“I can tell you all, and you all know it, it’s not going to be easy. It’s a tough journey. It’s tough work. It’s a lot of hard work that lies ahead of us,” said Davis.
He framed the election as a campaign about leadership.
“I’m ready to lead our new team, our new faces, our new ideas and take this campaign directly to our bosses, right to their doorstep, the voters and the people of Newfoundland and Labrador,” said Davis, a former police officer.
The Conservative party has held power since 2003 but Davis has been premier for just over 13 months, becoming leader after the Tories abandoned an initial leadership contest a few months earlier when the only candidate running to replace former premier Kathy Dunderdale dropped out.
From popularity figures that were in the stratosphere when Danny Williams was leader, the Conservatives saw their support drop dramatically under Dunderdale, who decided to quit politics three weeks after blackouts in January 2014 left tens of thousands of residents without power. Dunderdale insisted the province was not in a crisis, the last in a series of miscues.
To make matters worse for the government, world oil prices have plummeted, dealing a blow to its once booming offshore energy sector, which accounts for one third of the provincial budget in 2013. An analysis by RBC pegs the cost of the oil price slump at $1.5 billion in lost revenue for the province in 2015-16.
If he wins the election, Liberal Leader Dwight Ball would join Liberal premiers in New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island. He is also trying to ride a wave of support for the party that saw it win all 32 federal ridings in Atlantic Canada in last month’s federal election.
Although the campaign was formally launched on Thursday, the former businessman got a jump on the other parties, kicking off his campaign Monday by invoking Justin Trudeau’s appeal for positive change.
“People of our province want politics of hope, of change,” he said. “And that’s what’s behind the big red door.”
Earle McCurdy is fighting his first campaign as leader of the NDP after winning the party’s leadership this year. At his first official campaign event on Thursday he made a case for voters to elect the province’s first NDP government.
“Since Confederation we’ve had 66 years of jockeying back and forth between Liberal and Conservative governments,” he said. “Liberal government for 10 years or so, Conservative government for 10 years or so, Liberal government for 10 years or so? How’s that been working for you?
“You know, I think it’s time to kick that habit.”
McCurdy said his campaign will lay out the issues it believes are important to the provinces residents including affordable day care, dignity for seniors living in their homes and the impact the Muskrat Falls hydroelectric project will have on electricity bills.
The NDP will also focus on explaining the party’s values to voters, he said, instead of producing a long list of election promises.
“It’s pretty easy in an election campaign for anyone to come up with a list of promises a mile long, we’ve seen it in the past, and then if a new government is elected to say, ‘We just realized what a mess the old crowd left behind and we can’t do all that stuff we promised,’ ” said McCurdy, a former union leader.
This election is being fought on a new electoral map that cut the number of seats in the legislature from 48 to 40 in an effort to cut costs.
At dissolution, the Tories had 28 seats in the legislature, the Liberals 16, the New Democrats three. One seat was vacant.