Ten ridings to watch: Avalon, another good Newfoundland yarn

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Election 2011: rabble.ca has chosen 10 key ridings across Canada for progressives to watch in the run-up to the May 2 vote, and asked local writers to assess them. The profiles highlight why the riding is important and issues local campaigns are focused on.

Like all good Newfoundland stories, the one about the tight race to take the Avalon riding can be told a thousand ways.

The defeated Conservative attempting a comeback; the incumbent Liberal struggling to hang onto his seat amidst a political landscape changing so fast no one can predict what will happen; the NDP candidate who would like to beat them both to the prize; an electorate that is long on memory and short on trust: all the makings of a good story are there, however you tell it.

But perhaps the best way to begin is to recall the 2008 election: then-Premier Danny Williams' ABC (anything but Conservative) campaign was so successful that it blocked the party from winning a single seat in the province of Newfoundland and Labrador. That was how Williams and Newfoundland paid Stephen Harper back for abandoning a promise to exclude non-renewable energy sources from the equalization formula.

The Liberal candidate Scott Andrews won the 2006 election by 3,000 votes in a riding in which about 31,000 votes were cast. Then, NDP weren't even on the map politically, having received only 2.2 per cent of the vote. Fabian Manning had been the only incumbent Conservative in the province who dared to run and he performed better than any other Conservative candidate. For his trouble, he was appointed to the Senate shortly after the election. And that's the way things were.

Fast forward to the Friday before the 2011 election and the NDP candidate for Avalon, Matthew Fuchs, said that while polls are all over the map, some have been showing that he is in a good position. "And that was before the ‘orange crush,' started taking effect," Fuchs said, adding that now, "anything can happen."

Fuchs, a graduate student at Memorial University, answered his phone from a Tim Horton's where he was talking to a voter during a break from morning campaign activities. Fuchs said that Jack Layton's popularity is making a difference in Avalon. "We sometimes say a rising tide lifts all boats," he said.

But Fuchs would not predict a win on Monday.

That's because as the impact of Williams' anti-Conservative campaign fades, support for Conservative candidates in Newfoundland and Labrador is returning. Kathy Dunderdale, the current Conservative premier, endorsed Harper and his slate, which includes two former provincial cabinet ministers and a former MP. And, the Conservative Party has been pouring resources into the Avalon riding.

As a result, the April 29 analysis of the polls at ThreeHundredEight.com predicts a Conservative win in Avalon, with an incredible 55 per cent of the vote. The same analysis predicts the Liberal candidate will win 33 per cent of the vote and the NDP 10 per cent. Only one other riding in the province is predicted to see a Conservative win.

Manning resigned his senate seat in order to try to win back the Avalon riding. He's counting on Harper's pledge to provide a loan guarantee for the Lower Churchill hydroelectric megaproject to convince the voters. However, both the NDP and Liberal parties have also promised the loan guarantee.

Liberal candidate Andrews has said that voters have not yet forgotten the broken promises that caused them to shut out the Conservatives in 2006.

He may be right. Newfoundlanders do have long memories.


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