Conservatives make inroads in Atlantic Canada, but Liberal fortress remains strong

Conservatives make inroads

Voters in Atlantic Canada loosened Justin Trudeau's grip on the region Monday by delivering a handful of new seats to the Conservatives, signalling a mild rebuke of the Liberal leader's decision to call an election during the pandemic's fourth wave.

In the six years since Trudeau won a majority government in 2015, the Liberals' dominance on the East Coast has slipped from controlling all 32 seats after that election to 26 seats in 2019 — and the slide continued on Monday.

With the vote counting winding down across the region, Liberals were elected in 23 of the region's ridings, the Tories had won eight seats — a gain of four — and the NDP lost its only seat: St. John's East in Newfoundland and Labrador.

The outcome in the New Brunswick riding of Fredericton — one of the most closely watched races in the country — remained uncertain as Liberal Jenica Atwin and Conservative Andrea Johnson traded the lead well into the night.

The Conservatives, led by Erin O'Toole, held on to their traditional strongholds in southern New Brunswick and picked up an added seat in the province. The party also scored gains in two Liberal-held ridings in Nova Scotia and one in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Meanwhile, Jagmeet Singh's New Democrats were hoping to make gains in the Halifax area, but Singh's popularity in the polls didn't translate to votes.

In Nova Scotia, federal Fisheries Minister Bernadette Jordan lost to Conservative challenger Rick Perkins. Jordan has faced criticism over how she has handled the emergence of Indigenous lobster fishing fleets that operate outside the federally regulated seasons.

Critics on both sides of the issue have spoken out about Jordan's leadership. Indigenous groups say they can't understand why their traps are still being seized, even though they have a treaty right to fish when and where they want. And non-Indigenous fishers have complained about a lack of enforcement and the potential threat to the lobster stocks.

Cumberland-Colchester, the Liberal-held riding in Nova Scotia with a long history of voting Conservative, was returned to the Tory fold. The riding went Liberal in 2015, when former Tory Bill Casey ran under the Liberal banner. But Casey bowed out in 2019 and Liberal Lenore Zann won by just over 400 votes later that year.

In New Brunswick, the Tories gained Miramichi-Grand Lake from the Liberals, where incumbent Pat Finnigan did not seek re-election.

After a close fight on election night, the riding was won by Conservative Jake Stewart, a former Aboriginal affairs minister in the province's provincial government. He defeated challenger Lisa Harris, a former Liberal cabinet minister in a previous New Brunswick government.

Meanwhile, the eastern Newfoundland riding of St. John's East — the only NDP riding in the region when the election was called — fell to the Liberals despite a determined bid by well-known labour leader Mary Shortall. The NDP's popular Jack Harris, who held the riding from 2008-2015, won again in 2019 but chose not to run again.

Shortall’s eyes shone as she told a small crowd of supporters she'd be foregoing sleep to stay up for the official results in the riding.

“We probably won’t know until tomorrow,” she said, referring to the final tally in her contest with Liberal Joanne Thompson. “This has been one heck of a journey. It's been the most fabulous, heart-wrenching, joyous 36 days of my entire life.”

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