Liberals take seat from PCs in provincial byelection
Under normal circumstances, 40 votes is not a decisive victory, but there was nothing normal about the circumstances around the Virginia Waters byelection, and on Wednesday night when all the votes were counted, the Liberals were calling it a resounding triumph.
Liberal candidate Cathy Bennett didn’t win by much — 40 votes in the final tally — but it was enough to snatch away former premier Kathy Dunderdale’s old seat in the House of Assembly. On Wednesday night, the Liberals were calling it a resounding victory.
A year ago, the Liberals had six seats in the House of Assembly, and the party leadership was uncertain. Today, they have 12 MHAs and they sit atop a commanding lead in the polls.
Wednesday, the Liberals were able to snatch away Virginia Waters — former premier Kathy Dunderdale’s old seat — and when final numbers came in, the Grits were jubilant.
“This night really built on a tremendous amount of Liberal momentum that has been sweeping across the province, and across Canada, and I’m honoured to be part of that momentum in the district of Virgina Waters,” Bennett told a cheering crowd at the Hampton Inn. “Tomorrow, the work begins, and there is so much for us to do together. I’m ready for the challenge, and I look forward to representing Virginia Waters — all the people of Virginia Waters — now and in the next general election as part of a Liberal government.”
For weeks, the stakes of Wednesday’s byelection were amped up within political circles. It was the first big test for the Tories since Dunderdale resigned. It was a chance for the Liberals to prove they still had the momentum, and that they could win in St. John’s — traditionally Tory and New Democrat turf.
As the results trickled in, Bennett and Tory candidate Danny Breen remained neck and neck. Nobody was sure who had won until the results from the last poll came in.
Supporters at the Hampton Inn huddled around a screen watching the numbers update, and then erupted into cheers when the final tally was posted.
Bennett received 1,932 votes, Breen got 1,892 and NDP candidate Sheilagh O’Leary got 1,021.
“I think it’s absolutely fantastic,” MHA Lisa Dempster said.
Dempster will now have another woman in the Liberal caucus. Until now, she was surrounded by only men.
“Not only do we have another female at the table, but we’ve got a very credible person at the table.”
Liberal Leader Dwight Ball called this a hat trick for the Liberals — in the past year they’ve won three byelections, two of them in districts formerly held by senior Progressive Conservatives.
“Cathy Bennett is a clear winner tonight in Virginia Waters,” he said. “Liberals are listening to the people in our province. We will deliver, and Newfoundland and Labrador will be a better province because of the next Liberal government, which Cathy Bennett will be part of.”
Earlier in the day, Ball told reporters that Bennett would be a key part of a future Liberal government.
“I see Cathy Bennett as a frontbench minister with a Liberal government and she brings a lot,” he said.
The voters won’t give her a long leash, though. When the PC party’s leadership still in flux, there will have to be a general election by July 2015, so Bennett will have to be back defending her seat next year.
In her victory speech, though, she told residents of the district what to expect from her in the meantime.
“No matter who you voted for, I am your MHA and I promise to serve you with strong leadership and integrity,” she said. “I will always listen and act on the issues that affect you, and the ones that are most important to you and your family.”