October 12, 2007

Avalanche on the Rock

The Newfoundland Inkslinger news bureau was intently covering the Newfoundland provincial election this past Tuesday evening. In reality, this major news bureau consisted of myself munching on pizza and listening to VOCM Radio streaming online while reading CBC News.

The Conservatives led by Danny Williams won by a landslide. Make that an avalanche. Newfoundland and Labrador is now almost totally coated in Tory blue.

To put it bluntly, the Liberal Party of Newfoundland is effectively annihilated. They now hold three seats. The Conservatives hold 43 seats. The NDP holds one. Prior to the election campaign, the governing Tories had held 34 of 48 seats in the House of Assembly. The Liberals had 11 seats, while the NDP had held one seat. There were two vacancies.

Granted, the Liberal party had some shortfalls along the way, which were unfortunate and nothing for any moral-minded person to gloat over. Liberal candidate for the Grand Falls-Buchans district Gerry Tobin died suddenly of a heart attack, shocking everyone. Nominations for that district will close Oct. 27. Voting will take place November 6.

Another candidate, Clayton Hobbs, in the Bonavista South district withdrew because of health reasons. The region's running Tory was acclaimed by the chief electoral office. Then on the big night the leader of the Liberal Party Gerry Reid was defeated in his own district by just seven votes, which will be contested (a margin of less than 10 votes triggers an automatic recount). The last time an Opposition caucus was limited to three members was in 1966, when three PCs squared off against a Joey Smallwood majority of 39 members.

According to Elections Newfoundland and Labrador, the province has 353,304 eligible voters. There were 220,339 ballots cast, making the voter turnout roughly 62 per cent, which was lower than most elections.

Williams' 69.5 vote percentage is the highest since the 1949 election, when Joseph R. Smallwood's Liberals formed the first provincial government with 70 per cent.

This is all very exciting for Newfoundlanders home and abroad. After more than 50 years since confederation, the foundations are being laid for "have" province status. Under Williams' watch annual deficits, which had were approaching about $1 billion, have been replaced by a surplus for this fiscal year of about $261 million.

However, it comes with several problems.

There is no official opposition. William's government is now essentially free to do as it pleases. For instance, buying full page ads in the Globe and Mail to make fun of Prime Minister Steven Harper seemed a little childish . . . but effective nonetheless.

I do have respect for Williams and what he's been able to accomplish for Newfoundland so far, but an Opposition is needed to keep the government in check. An Opposition is an important part of the democratic process.

The media will have to step up to be the opposition. The local newspapers, radio and television stations will have to raise the issues.

And I will be here in Alberta, navigating them from afar.