UPDATE: Second Labrador by-election in eight years (and third in fifteen)
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The resignation of first-time Labrador Conservative M.P. and one-time President of the Innu Nation, Peter Penashue, means that a by-election will be held in this northern seat as soon as May 6, 2013.
Penashue (pen-AA-shoe-way) wants to be a candidate in that by-election, but said in a statement that he's resigning after learning that his first official agent had accepted some "ineligible campaign donations". However a statement issued by the Prime Minister's Office merely thanked the Minister for his service, leading some to wonder whether he would receive his party's endorsement for a second run. Luckily the Twitter assures us he will indeed be a candidate.
The riding of Labrador, NL – with the notable exception of 2008 – has seen a long-term decline in Liberal support, mirrored by a growing trend-line for conservatives, though 2011 was the first election in which the Conservatives were able to convert that to a win. Liberal candidate Lawrence O'Brien replaced the retiring Liberal M.P. Bill Rompkey in a 1996 by-election [UPDATE: and NOT in 1993, as earlier written], and was re-elected three more times until his untimely death from cancer forced a second by-election in 2005.
That by-election was won for the Liberals by then-President of the Labrador Métis Federation, Todd Russell, who was in turn narrowly defeated by Innu leader Penashue in 2011 — exactly 22 days before Russell would have been able to vest his MP's pension.
I hate to be cynical, and I'm really not cynical about these things in general, but a 79-vote margin plus 22 days to an inflation-protected pension of whatever size have got to add up to pretty strong incentives to try and run again. Particularly when Russell's typical raw vote of 5,500 or so could be worth as much as 70% of the vote in the famous "ABC campaign" election of 2008, which saw large numbers of Conservative voters stay home, and figuring on a typical low-turnout by-election, he would have to like his chances.
But Russell will probably have some problems to contend with himself. For one thing, the NDP has long coveted the riding, given their reasonably concentrated base of support in Labrador City in the west of the riding where they have occasionally won a provincial seat. The party has long aspired to find the right candidate to bridge that base with other potential pockets of support. And while it benefitted to a lesser extent than the Liberals from the 2008 "Anyone-but-Conservative" campaign, the NDP did at least move into second place with a solid 20% of the vote in that election, and unlike the Liberals were able to maintain their vote share in 2011.
For another thing, the provincial Liberals are not the party benefitting from PC premier Kathy Dunderdale's mid-term unpopularity on the provincial scene, the NDP is – topping the provincial polls for the first time in history.
Now, Penashue's own 2011 candidacy was controversial within the Innu Nation, which was not unanimous in its support for the various deals its leadership had signed onto with the federal and provincial governments, and who historically have not voted at all in federal or provincial elections, much to the chagrin of the NDP which always considered them natural allies.
Other significant voting blocks in the riding include the Labrador Inuit up the coast, and the residents of Happy Valley-Goose Bay (especially those who work at the Airforce Base there). And looking at a map of the poll-by-poll results, the various regions break down much as you would expect, with Happy Valley-Goose Bay the red dot in the middle.
[Click on map below to open up interactive version on the Pundits' Guide riding profile page for Labrador]
Now, I don't claim to be an expert in the field of energy, but the Muskrat Falls project in Labrador, and its relationship to the Maritime Link project, will undoubtedly be an issue in the by-election. It pits Newfoundland & Labrador against Québec, NDP Leader Tom Mulcair against the Québec National Assembly, Peter Penashue against his own mother apparently, the Nova Scotia NDP government against their currently more popular rivals in the Nova Scotia Liberal Party, and some federal Liberal leadership candidates against each other.
But I don't think you can tip-toe through the tundra on this issue, and expect to win a Labrador by-election right now. Whatever his newfound reputation difficulties on the national stage, Peter Penashue is a local boy made good, who brought federal investments to his riding. It's hard to out-organize an incumbent in a remote riding like this at the best of times, and those two factors alone would tend to make him the early favourite.
Assuming Penashue's resignation reached the Commons Speaker today, and gets from there to the Chief Electoral officer within the next few days after that, the Prime Minister will be able to call a by-election as early as the last week of March for Monday May 6. The last day to call it would be sometime in early September for a date on or after mid-to-late October.