Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Provincial by-election today in St. George's-Stephenville East, Newfoundland

Location of St. George's-Stephenville East in Newfoundland
Voters in the southwestern Newfoundland riding of St. George's-Stephenville East will head to the polls today to elect a new member of the Newfoundland and Labrador House of Assembly (MHA) for their district. The seat became vacant in June, when its MHA, Progressive Conservative Joan Shea (nee Burke), Newfoundland's Environment Minister resigned, citing a lack of energy. Shea's departure is yet another sign of the declining fortunes of Newfoundland's governing Progressive Conservative party, which is currently amidst a postponed leadership election. (The party was set to acclaim businessman Frank Coleman as leader in July, but he had to withdraw amidst controversy, citing family matters, thus delaying the vote until September).




Map of the riding, showing poll boundaries and various geographic features

































Geography

The riding of St. George's-Stephenville East can be found in the southwestern corner of the Island of Newfoundland. It takes in the eastern half of the Town of Stephenville, the riding's largest municipality, and wraps around St. George's Bay, including the towns of Stephenville Crossing and St. George's. The riding continues southward along the southwestern coast of the province, ending at the tiny community of Red Rocks, northwest of Port aux Basques. Stephenville, Stephenville Crossing and St. George's are the only incorporated municipalities in the riding. However, there are many smaller unincorporated communities dotting the coastline. The three municipalities are located in the north of the riding, close to the mouth of the St. George's River. The population in the rest of the riding are concentrated in two regions: Bay St. George South in the central part of the riding, and the Codroy Valley, in the south.


Demographics


The riding has a large unemployment rate, with labour force participation in most communities being below 50%. This fact makes the riding fairly poor, with most communities in the low $20,000 range for median individual income, which is nearly $5,000 below the provincial median. Those who do work tend to work in Sales and Trades, with the traditional fishing industry having been decimated in recent years. Ethnically speaking, the riding has a good mix of English, French, First Nations and Irish roots. Catholicism is the majority religion, while Anglicanism is the largest Protestant denomination.


History


St. George's-Stephenville East was formed in 1996 when the riding of Stephenville was split in half, with its eastern section joining the riding of St. George's to form the new riding of St. George's-Stepheville East. While most of the territory in the new riding came from St. George's, the MHA from Stephenville (Kevin Aylward) would represent the new riding.


Including the preceding St. George's riding, the riding has been a good bellwether, having voted for the party that would go on to form government in every election since 1979. The Liberals most recently won the seat in 1999, with 53% of the vote. Since then, they bottomed out at 25% in 2007, but increased their share of the vote in 2011 to 33% when their leader (Kevin Aylward) ran in the seat. The Tories have held the seat since 2003, when Shea (then Burke) defeated Liberal Ron Dawe, who held the seat as Tory in the 1980s. Burke defeated Daw by less than 500 votes, or about 8%. She was easily re-elected in 2007 with 74% of the vote, but Aylward gave her a run for her money in 2011, when she won 49%. The NDP has rarely ever run in the riding. In fact, the party has only run in the seat once since the district was created 18 years ago. Bernice Hancock ran for the New Democrats in 2011, winning a respectable 17% of the vote.


MHAs

W.J. Keough, Liberal (1949-1971)
A.M. Dunphy, Prog. Cons. (1971-1975)
Mrs. H.A. McIsaac, Liberal (1975-1979)
R.G. Dawe, Prog. Cons. (1979-1989)
L. Short, Liberal (1989-1993)
B. Hulan, Liberal (1993-1996)
K. Aylward, Liberal (1996-2003)
Mrs. J. Shea (Burke), Prog. Cons. (2003-2014)


Political geography


Shea's victory in 2011 was helped by winning large margins in the southern, more rural parts of the riding where she won all but one poll. Her best region was in the Bay St. George South area, where she won 62% of the vote. Her best poll was also in this region, #25, where she won 76% of the vote. This poll covers the community of McKay's. The Liberals did their best in the Stepheville area, where they won 38% of the vote. This was still not enough to beat Shea there, but they did win four of their eight polls in this region. However, the strongest poll for the Liberals was #17, where they won 78% of the vote. This poll covers the community of Mattis Point, which is across the St. George's River from Stephenville Crossing, Aylward's hometown. The NDP's best region was also the Stephenville area, where they won 21% of the vote. Their best poll was #11, which covers the community of Black Duck Siding in the northern part of the riding. In this poll, the NDP won 35% of the vote, which was not enough to win the poll. However, the NDP did tie one poll with the Liberals, #29. This poll covers the community of Highlands in the Bay St. George South area.



Results of the 2011 provincial election by polling division

































Federally, the area belongs to the riding of Random—Burin—St. George's. The area was much more Liberal in the 2011 federal election, with Liberal MP Judy Foote winning 38% of the vote in St. George's-Stephenville East polls. However, this number was much lower than her 50% she won across the federal riding. Within St. George's-Stephenville East, St. George's area was the best region for Foote, while the Tories did the best in Bay St. George South, the only region in St. George's-Stephenville East where they beat the Liberals. This region tends to be the most anti-Liberal area in the riding, both provincially and federally, while Stephenville has historically been the most Liberal. In the 2011 election, the NDP's best region was actually the Codroy Valley in the south. Across the provincial riding, the federal Conservatives won 33% of the vote, the NDP won 27% and the Greens won 2%.

Recent election results by region










Despite the NDP having only run in the seat once in the riding's history, the federal party has had a lot of success in the region, sweeping the Catholic-majority region in 2004 with the candidacy of Des McGrath, a Catholic priest. The party also did well in 2008, capturing a number of rural polls.


Outlook


In today's by-election, the Tories are running Kippens (a town outside the riding) resident Wally Childs, a principal at a school in St. George's. The Liberals are running Scott Reid, a political science instructor at Memorial University, who was raised in the Codroy Valley. The NDP are running their candidate from 2011, Bernice Hancock, who is a program director from Stephenville.

The most recent province-wide polling suggests the Liberals are headed to a landslide majority government in the next provincial election. This means that bellwether seats, like St. George's-Stephenville East will more than likely be caught up in the Liberal tide. This is why I am fairly confident that the Liberals will win the riding tonight.

Polls close at 8:00pm Newfoundland time, or 6:30pm Eastern.

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