CORNER BROOK — The New Democratic Party is proving to be the alternative party of government in Newfoundland and Labrador.
That is the view of a pair of Corner Brook’s political science experts, but also the results of a telephone survey by Environics Research Group released late last week. The poll of 1,000 residents indicated the NDP is the party of choice for voters in this province.
The NDP collected 38 per cent support, narrowly in front of the governing Conservatives at 35 per cent. The Liberals were in third at 26 per cent.
Eric Mintz, retired political science instructor and current honorary research professor at Grenfell Campus, University of Newfoundland, said the results reflect the surge of the NDP, but also the fall of the Liberals and Tories.
“They are beginning to be seen as a major opposition for us or major alternative government,” he said. “As concerns are raised about Muskrat Falls, as well as perhaps the leadership of the premier (Kathy Dunderdale), who isn’t as dynamic as Danny Williams was, that is benefitting the NDP.”
Not a strong position
With the problems the province has had with the federal government — including debates and controversy over the coast guard and employment insurance — the governing Progressive Conservatives are not possibly taking a strong enough position to defend the interests of the province, in the eyes of the public, said Mintz. He said that perception is a reflection on the premier’s performance thus far.
“She hasn’t been as vocal as Williams would have been, presumably under the same circumstances,” he said.
“Williams did mobilize the population behind him on various issues of concern, where as Dunderdale has — not necessarily been uncritical of the federal government — but certainly hasn’t been as strong.
“I think that is affecting her popularity and the popularity of the party.”
The retired professor said the poor results of the last election and leadership problems have prevented the Liberals from taking advantage of the PCs’ slide.
Mintz says the NDP has also grown stronger, in its platform and candidates, and more credible across the country and province. While the nature of Newfoundland and Labrador has always led to potential support for the NDP in his opinion, he said, it took this surge to show results.
If the NDP builds its party across the province, the professor said it is possible they can hold this support, possibly even increase it.
Meanwhile, Mario Levesque, a political science professor at Grenfell, shared many of the same views as Mintz.
He said the slimmest of leads by the NDP should have them cautiously pleased with themselves. He credited the hard work of the party and the leadership of Lorraine Michael.
“While that is all good, and the NDP needs to continue doing more of the same, I don’t think they can rest on their laurels,” he said. “The election is still three years away.”
Levesque said the PCs have a lot of time to restore support. He said it is generally common for most governments to tackle issues early in their mandate and spend the remainder rebuilding support. That has been the case provincially with Muskrat Falls and the fallout from federal controversies, he said.
Dunderdale and her government took a hit by endorsing their federal counterparts in the last federal election, according to Levesque. He also said the upcoming negotiations with public service employees could further hurt their level of support.
On top of the issues, he said they are facing a historic fallout from being in power for so long. After eight to 10 years in power, it has been common for parties to become complacent and/or lose support.
Levesque said the Liberals must develop a cohesive policy platform, and sell it to the people, in order to make a move up the polls.
“Maybe the NDP is fortunate in that they are facing a long government and a Liberal party in disarray for the last number of years,” he said. “But, this surge of the NDP is not just a blip.”