Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Provincial by-election in Conception Bay South, Newfoundland today

Voters in the riding of Conception Bay South in Newfoundland head to the polls today to elect a new member of the House of Assembly in a provincial by-election. The by-election will be the first test of the new Premier in the province, Paul Davis, who was elected as Premier, and leader of the governing Progressive Conservative Party in a very fractured leadership race in September. (Despite there only being three candidates, the race had to go to an unexpected third ballot, as Davis had not secured “50%+1” on the second ballot, having led his rival by just one vote, with another spoilt). The riding is especially important to Davis because he is the former Deputy Mayor of Conception Bay South, and represents the neighbouring riding of Topsail.

Conception Bay South has been a safe Tory seat for nearly two decades. In the 1996 provincial election, it was one of only 9 ridings in the entire province to vote for the Progressive Conservatives. The riding was won by Bob French, who held the seat until his death in 2002. His son, Terry French won the subsequent by-election, and held the riding until resigning in September. French had been the Justice Minister of the province, and is one of several MHAs to have resigned this year. He had been quite popular in the riding, winning about 80% of the vote in the 2002 by-election and in both the 2003 and 2007 general elections. This was reduced to 69% in the 2011 general election.


Harbour Main (2 members)

-R.J. Fahey, Prog. Cons. (1949-1951)
-D.I. Jackman, Prog. Cons. (1949-1956)

-P.J. Lewis, Liberal (1951-1971)
-Matthew Whalen, Liberal (1956-1959)

-Albert Furey, Prog. Cons. (1959-1962)
-Clifton Joy, Liberal (1962-1966)
-Jn. Mahoney, Liberal (1966-1971)

-Gordon Dawe, Prog. Cons. (1971-1975)
-C.W. Doody, Prog. Cons. (1971-1975)

Conception Bay South (1 member)

-J.A. Nolan, Liberal (1975-1979)

-Jn. Butt, Prog. Cons. (1979-1989)
-P. Cowan, Liberal (1989-1996)
-Rbt. French, Prog. Cons. (1996-2002)
-T. French, Prog. Cons. (2002-2014)


The riding of Conception Bay South contains about half of the Town of Conception Bay South.  The Town of Conception Bay South was formed in an amalgamation of nine municipalities in 1973.  The riding contains the former municipalities of Foxtrap, Long Pond, Manuels, Kelligrews and part of Chamberlains. It also contains some remote areas on the western fringes of the City of St. John's. As the name indicates, the riding is located at the south end of Conception Bay, and is a western suburb of the capital of St. John's.


Due to its proximity to the province's largest city, Conception Bay South is one of the fastest growing municipalities in the province, seeing a 13% population increase from 2006 to 2011. This is quite an achievement in a province that has for much of the last 20 years seen a decrease in population. This increase has moved the town ahead of Mount Pearl as the second largest municipality in the province.

Not only is Conception Bay South growing rapidly, it is also wealthier than the province as a whole. The average income in the town is $40,000, which is $5000 more than the provincial average. As one would expect, the town is overwhelmingly White and overwhelmingly English speaking. Its main cleavage is religion. Within the riding, about 43% of residents are Anglican, while 27% are Catholic and 12% are United Church. In terms of ethnicity, about half of the population identify as English, while there is also a substantial population with Irish ancestry. 

Political geography

In 2011, French won every single polling division for the Tories, with a majority of the vote. In his worst poll, #2, which is in Chamberlains in the north of the riding, he still won 57% of the vote. The Manuels / Chamberlains area as a whole was the worst part of the riding for French, only winning 66% of the vote. French broke the 75% mark in several polls in the riding. Altogether, his best part of the riding was in Foxtrap, where he won 71%. For the NDP, which finished second in the riding, their best area was in Manuels / Chamberlains, perhaps due to the fact that it lies in the federal riding of the St. John's East, currently held by popular NDP MP Jack Harris. The southern part of the riding can be found in the federal riding of Avalon. The area of Conception Bay South in Avalon is a bellwether for the riding (and its predecessor of St. John's East), going Liberal in 2004, 2008 and 2011 when the riding went Liberal, and going Tory in 1997, 2000 and 2007 when the riding went Conservative or PC.

2011 election results by area



The Tories have had a bad track record with recent provincial by-elections in the province, losing every single one since the 2011 provincial election. If this hemorrhaging will stop, it might be tonight in this Tory-friendly riding. However, the Liberals do have the potential of picking it up. After all, it's not like they have never won the riding before, as they have previously held it in the early 1990s. Additionally, the area is a bellwether in federal elections, and went Liberal in the last federal election. Recent polls have not seen a bounce for the Tories under Paul Davis' premiership, and using a uniform swing from the last election, the Tories would lose this seat. However, due to Davis being from the area, I expect there will be a “favourite son” effect, with the Tories possibly winning the race in a squeaker.

One thing that may help the Liberals win election is the fact that they're running a local town councillor, Rex Hillier, who represents Ward 1 in Conception Bay South, which covers Chamberlains and part of Manuels. Running for the Tories is Barry Petten, the former executive assistant for French. The NDP, which finished a distant second in 2011 is running Memorial University student Cameron Mercer-Maillet. The NDP has had many internal struggles recently, and has been faltering in the polls as a result. They should not be a factor in this Liberal-PC race. We'll see what happens when polls close at 8pm (6:30 Eastern).


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