Liberals claim slim majority in Newfoundland and Labrador, as voters tap Furey to lead

Nfld. & Labrador·Breaking

The Liberal Party has the people’s approval to form the next government of Newfoundland and Labrador, winning 22 of 40 seats after 10 weeks of electoral tumult.

Liberal Leader Andrew Furey, pictured here after a televised debate in St. John's on Feb. 3, has reclaimed the premiership in Newfoundland and Labrador.(Paul Daly/The Canadian Press)

The Liberal Party has the people's approval to form the next government of Newfoundland and Labrador, winning 22 of the legislature's 40 seats after 10 weeks of electoral tumult.

The long-overdue results, released all at once after weeks of ballot counting, hand the reins back to incumbent Premier Andrew Furey.

The Liberals claimed 48.2 per cent of the popular vote in a chaotic election that saw both opposition party leaders fail to reclaim their seats.

Progressive Conservative Leader Ches Crosbie was not re-elected to the district of Windsor Lake, losing to the Liberals' John Hogan by more than 500 votes.

NDP Leader Alison Coffin also lost her seat in St. John's East-Quidi Vidi by just over 50 votes to John Abbott of the Liberals.

The PCs now have 13 seats, down two of their members since the House of Assembly dissolved in January. They won 38.8 per cent of the popular vote.

The New Democrats have two seats, re-electing Jim Dinn of St. John's Centre and Jordan Brown of Labrador West. The party walked away with eight per cent of the vote.

Three Independents have also been re-elected.

CBC News is broadcasting a live election special here.

Coffin addressed her party and the public just after noon on Saturday, hugging her campaign team before taking the podium.

"What a fine-looking group of candidates," she said, beaming, after a long initial pause. But her optimism quickly pivoted to critique, as Coffin condemned the embattled election as "a resounding lesson in democracy" and suggested the historically low turnout would bring legal challenges.

Less than 50 per cent of eligible voters cast a ballot.

Alison Coffin, leader of the NDP, was not re-elected to the House of Assembly, losing by a margin of 53 votes.(Paul Daly/The Canadian Press)

Crosbie released a pre-recorded statement to media just before 12:30 p.m. NT, saying he would "take a few days" to reflect on the results and speak with his caucus and family to determine "where we go from here."

He thanked the voters of Windsor Lake for the opportunity to represent them. Crosbie, the son of late politician John Crosbie, has led the PCs since 2018, when he was elected as head of the party without holding a seat.

He later claimed the Windsor Lake district in a byelection and was voted in by constituents in the 2019 general election.

Ches Crosbie, leader of the Progressive Conservatives, has lost his seat in the legislature.(Paul Daly/The Canadian Press)

Sideways election

The results come 2½ months after Furey called the election.

At the time, the province had five active cases of COVID-19 and was averaging a new case every day or so. Furey was riding the crest of a recent poll that suggested the Liberals held a 32-point lead over the Progressive Conservatives, and 52 per cent of respondents felt Furey was the best choice for premier, compared with just 19 per cent for Crosbie.

The government Furey inherited from predecessor Dwight Ball was one seat shy of a majority. Exactly half of the province's 40 districts were held by Liberals, with 15 belonging to the PCs, three to the NDP and two to Independents. Those 20 seats became 19 when Lake Melville MHA Perry Trimper resigned from caucus amid allegations of racism.

So on Jan. 15, with glowing polls and a largely coronavirus-free voting public providing an opportunity to return the Liberals to a majority government, Furey announced voters would be going to the polls 29 days later, on the first Saturday election in provincial history.

COVID-19 remained largely dormant for the first three weeks of the campaign, as candidates donned masks for physically distanced door-knocking and campaign stops as voting day, Feb. 13, approached.

Then, five days before election day, the provincial Department of Health reported 11 new cases — the highest single-day total in more than 10 months, dating back to when the pandemic's first wave in the province was cresting. The next day saw 30 new cases, then 53 the next — at the time, a new single-day record for N.L.

The Liberals' Furey, left, Crosbie of the Progressive Conservatives and the NDP's Coffin squared off in the 2021 race.(Paul Daly/The Canadian Press)

On Feb. 11 — two days before provincial polls were scheduled to open — public health officials announced 100 new cases in a single day, a staggering jump in a province that had seen 500 cases total in the 11 preceding months.

With the cases largely confined to St. John's and the surrounding area, chief electoral officer Bruce Chaulk announced that in-person voting in the broader Avalon Peninsula's 18 districts — nearly half of the province's 40 total districts — would be postponed, while proceeding as usual elsewhere.

But on the eve of the vote, in a hastily called news conference, Dr. Janice Fitzgerald, provincial chief medical officer of health, announced that the cases involved in the outbreak were of the B117 variant, and she was moving the province into Alert Level 5, the strictest of the province's tiered system of pandemic restrictions.

Furey was at that news conference but referred all questions about what the lockdown meant for the election to Chaulk.

While Furey and Fitzgerald's news conference was still happening, Chaulk announced on CTV News Channel that in-person voting would be suspended.

Chief electoral officer Bruce Chaulk has faced several unprecedented challenges over the course of the campaign.(Paul Daly/The Canadian Press)

That was not the end of the logistical headaches for Elections NL. With concerns over timely postal service in winter weather and amid a pandemic, the deadline for mail-in voting was changed several times and flipped from being the date a ballot would need to be postmarked by, to the date the ballot needed to be received by Elections NL. There were concerns over ballots sent out with incorrect information, and over a lack of ballots in Indigenous languages.

And while Chaulk had suggested that the outcome might not be known until early April, Elections NL announced late Tuesday afternoon that results were coming on the weekend.

The next day, CBC revealed that despite Chaulk's insistence early in the campaign that voting by telephone was not allowed under provincial legislation, Elections NL had allowed at least four people to vote over the phone.

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