Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Virginia Waters, Newfoundland by-election today

Location of Virginia Waters in St. John's

A provincial by-election is being held today in the riding of Virginia Waters, Newfoundland and Labrador. The riding had been represented by former Progressive Conservative Premier Kathy Dunderdale, but she resigned the seat on February 28, following her resignation as premier a month earlier. Her resignation had followed a huge hit to her personal popularity in the province, but also in her party's support. Since her resignation, the province has been run by Tom Marshall, who will serve as interim Premier until the Tories can elect a leader in July, with the winner to become the province's 12th Premier.


Virginia Waters is located in St. John's northeastern suburbs, containing the neighbourhoods of Wedgewood Park, Ricketts Bridge, Penetanguishene and Airport Heights. The riding runs roughly from the shores of Virginia Lake in the east to the tip of Windsor Lake in the West, and is named for both the lake, and the Virginia River, which flows through the district.

The riding contains mostly newer housing developments, and is growing in population. The Airport Heights/Penetanguishene area is especially growing, seeing a 44% population increase between 2006 and 2011. That area is home to newer homes, most being built since 1991. The rest of the riding is slightly older, with homes being mostly built in the 1980s.

The riding is also quite wealthy, with the median income of the riding being around $40,000, and the average income being around $50,000. Compare this to the provincial numbers of $25,000 and $35,000 respectively, and the St. John's totals of $30,000 and $40,000 respectively. The area around Virginia Lake is especially wealthy.

Demographically, the area is similar to the rest of St. John's. It has a large Catholic plurality, and ethnically is dominated by those of English and Irish ancestry. 

Political geography

2011 results by polling division

In the 2011 election, when Dunderdale was much more popular, she was able to sweep the riding, winning all but one poll, where she still managed to tie the NDP candidate. Dunderdale won the district with 60% of the vote, well ahead of her NDP opponent, who won 30%. She did even better in the 2007 election, where she won 73% and the NDP won 13%. The Liberals finished third in both elections winning 8% in 2007 and 10% in 2011.

The lone polling division that Dunderdale did not outright win in 2011 was poll #17, which corresponds to the Torbay Estates Apartments. Both her and her NDP opponent, David Sullivan won 44% of the vote there. Dunderdale's best poll was #26, which consists of a number of wealthy homes on the shores of Virginia Lake in the district's far east end. In that poll, she won 75% of the vote.

Federally, the district is located in the riding of St. John's East, which is represented by popular NDP MP Jack Harris. In both the 2008 and 2011 federal elections, Harris swept the area, winning every single poll by large margins. His worst area in 2011, was in the neighbourhood around Virginia Lake, where he “only” won 60% of the vote, much lower then the rest of Virginia Waters where he averaged more than 70% of the vote. The area hasn't always gone NDP however. The Tories won most polls in the area in the 2006 federal election, while the Liberals won the area in 2004. In 2000, the Progressive Conservatives swept Virginia Waters, while in 1997 the Tories edged out a win against a strong NDP campaign.


Dunderdale has held the district since 2003, when she defeated the Liberal MHA, Walter Noel. Noel had represented the area from 1989 to 2003. Before 1989, the area was a Tory strong hold, as the St. John's area has historically been very pro-Tory dating back to the province joining Confederation in 1949. Traditionally, Catholics and the upper class in Newfoundland have backed the conservatives, and they have historically been concentrated in the St. John's area. They opposed confederation in 1949, while the poorer, Protestant class outside the city supported confederation, and in turn the Liberals who also supported confederation. In recent decades this political cleavage has been less evident, as the Liberals have been able to win in the St. John's area, however traces of the old political polarization in the province still remain.

Since 1971, the riding has been a perfect bellwether riding, voting for the winning party in every election since.


St. John's East
J.G. Higgins, Prog. Cons. (1949-1951)
J.D. Higgins, Prog. Cons. (1951-1959)
J.J. Greene, Prog. Cons. (1959-1962)

St. John's East Extern
W.J. Browne, Prog. Cons. (1962-1966)
T.V. Hickey, Prog. Cons (1966-1975)

J.W. Dinn, Prog. Cons. (1975-1989)
W. Noel, Liberal (1989-1996)

Virginia Waters
W. Noel, Liberal (1996-2003) continued
Mrs. K.M.M. Dunderdale, Prog. Cons. (2003-2014)


The candidates

Running to replace Dunderdale for the Tories is St. John's city councillor Danny Breen. Breen is the councillor for Ward 1 which covers much of Virginia Waters. Breen has represented Ward 1 since 2009 when he defeated the incumbent councillor Art Puddister by a narrow margin. He was acclaimed in the 2013 election. Running for the NDP in the riding is another local politician, Sheilagh O'Leary. O'Leary sat on city council from 2009 to 2013, when she ran for mayor of St. John's. O'Leary was elected as one of four at-large councillors in 2009, when she won more votes than any of the other candidates running for an at large position, far ahead of the three incumbents running. When O'Leary ran for mayor last year, she was endorsed by the federal NDP, an unusual event for municipal politics. She ran a strong campaign against the popular Tory mayor, Dennis O'Keefe, winning 42% of the vote. Running for the Liberals is local businesswoman Cathy Bennett, who is the CEO of the Bennett Group of Companies. Bennett ran for the Liberal leadership in 2013, finishing in third place.

The most recent province-wide poll in Newfoundland was released in March, and was conducted by Corporate Research Associates. It showed the Liberals at 53%, the Tories at 33% and the NDP at just 13%. If this poll is accurate, than it is safe to say that the Tories are in trouble in a riding like Virginia Waters, which has been a reliable bellwether in the province, voting for the governing party in every election since 1971. However, all three parties are running strong candidates, which makes the result of today's by-election somewhat harder to predict.

Both the Tories and the NDP have suffered from internal struggles over the last couple of years that have really hurt their poll numbers. The Liberals however, which were nearly wiped out in the last two elections, have returned in full force. This is due to not only a divided opposition, but also an Atlantic Canada-wide resurgence for the Liberal brand, thanks in part to federal leader Justin Trudeau. Had the Liberals been in the political wilderness, and had the NDP not gone through its recent internal divisions, this riding would have been a prime pick-up opportunity for New Democrats, as the party did well in the St. John's area in the last election. However, the NDP has been discredited, and despite the strong candidacy of O'Leary, they are unlikely to do well today. The Tories on the other hand might still have a chance to win the seat, as they are running a more high profile candidate than the Liberals, in a riding that was once a Tory stronghold. However, I do not believe that will be enough for the Tories to win. So, I am personally predicting a Liberal victory.

We will find out for sure what happens when the polls close tonight at 8pm (6:30 Eastern).

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