Winnipeg Free Press, October 21, 2015
Commentary by Dean Jobb
For proof of the magnitude of Justin Trudeau’s historic sweep of Atlantic Canada, look no farther than Fundy Royal, a largely rural riding in southern New Brunswick. It has been as safe a Conservative seat as any in the country, electing a Liberal just once in the past century.
But not even Rob Moore, a cabinet minister in the Harper government who has held the seat for 11 years, could withstand the red tide that engulfed the East Coast on election night. Liberal Alaina Lockhart, a small business owner making her first run for federal office, sent him packing.
That was the story across the region as the Liberals won all 32 seats, providing more than enough MPs to propel Trudeau to victory with a solid majority. Trudeau, who entered the campaign with only a dozen Atlantic MPs, eclipsed Jean Chretien’s near sweep (31 seats) in 1993 and outdid his famous father – Pierre Trudeau’s best showing in the four Atlantic Provinces was 19 seats in 1980.
The Liberal resurgence outstripped expectations. Regional polls had suggested the party could double its seat total to 25. CBC Television’s veteran election night anchor Peter Mansbridge, faced with an electoral map showing four provinces awash in red, described the outcome as “incredible” and “stunning.”
In all the Conservatives lost 13 East Coast seats as voters issued a stinging rebuke to the Harper government. The Liberals’ share of the popular vote ballooned to more than 50 per cent. By the time polls closed west of the New Brunswick-Quebec border, the party was leading or elected in almost as many seats as it won nation-wide in 2011.
Bernard Valcourt, a former Mulroney-era minister who held the aboriginal affairs and northern development portfolio under Harper, was defeated in the riding of Madawaska-Restigouche in northern New Brunswick, a province where the Liberals won only one of 10 seats in 2011.
In Prince Edward Island, Fisheries Minister Gail Shea lost the Tory’s only seat to Bobby Morrissey, a former provincial cabinet minister. In Nova Scotia, the Conservative stronghold of Central Nova – Peter MacKay’s old riding – was one of seven Liberal gains. Harper nemesis Bill Casey, expelled from the Conservative Party in 2007 after voting against a budget he believed would harm the region, got even by reclaiming Cumberland-Colchester, this time as a Liberal.
The New Democrats, meanwhile, lost six incumbents, including the once-invincible Peter Stoffer, who had won six straight elections. More shocking was the defeat of one of the party’s deputy leaders, Megan Leslie, who had inherited the Halifax riding from former NDP leader Alexa McDonough in 2008.
In Newfoundland, former television host Seamus O’Regan and lawyer Nick Whalen defeated NDP incumbents in St. John’s ridings. Whalen was so sure he would lose to the popular Jack Harris that it never occurred to him that he might need to draft an acceptance speech.
“I’m so fuddle duddle happy, I could fuddle duddle cry,” he told his jubilant supporters, borrowing the phrase Trudeau’s father coined after uttering an expletive.
Speculation now turns to how much clout Atlantic Canada will wield in the new government. A united front should give the region a strong voice in Ottawa and Trudeau has proven talent to draw on as he forms a cabinet. His close friend Dominic LeBlanc, re-elected in New Brunswick’s Beausejour riding, is a Harvard Law School grad who could take on the Justice portfolio. Nova Scotians Scott Brison and Geoff Regan held cabinet posts in the Paul Martin government.
Trudeau’s promises to spend on infrastructure and to reverse employment insurance changes that harmed seasonal industries showed an understanding of regional concerns. But the decisive victory was as much a rejection of Harper and his policies as an endorsement of Trudeau’s platform and leadership.
Harper’s brand of western conservatism was never a comfortable fit in a region where many Conservatives still consider themselves progressive and Red Tory traditions run deep.
“There’s an ebb and flow in politics,” Peter MacKay, who retired from politics after serving as one of Harper’s senior ministers, told CBC News as Central Nova fell to the Liberals for only the second time in almost 50 years. “People were looking for something different.”
They were. And they got it.