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NDP Poised To Make History In Newfoundland And Labrador

The New Democrats are looking to make a splash in Atlantic Canada following their stunning success in May's federal election, and in at least one province they might just pull it off.

But the effects of the orange wave and the outpouring of sympathy in the wake Jack Layton's death has been a little uneven.

In Newfoundland and Labrador’s upcoming October vote, the NDP under Lorraine Michael is poised to make history. The New Democrats have never won more than two seats in any provincial election on the Rock, and their vote share has only been in the double-digits once, in 1985.

The timing of the provincial election is good for the NDP leader. In May's federal election, the party took almost one-third of the vote and easily won the two ridings in St. John's. Jack Harris, former Newfoundland and Labrador NDP leader, took his seat with 71 per cent of the vote, while Ryan Cleary was elected with 48 per cent. Outside of the city, however, the NDP was not much of a factor.

Nevertheless, the federal results bode well for Michael, who occupies Harris' old provincial seat in the capital. The latest poll numbers from the Corporate Research Associates (CRA) put her party at 24 per cent, roughly three times the level of support her party enjoyed before the federal election.

This puts the provincial Liberals in a difficult spot. Government in Newfoundland and Labrador has alternated between the Liberals and the Progressive Conservatives, but with a new leader at the helm in Kevin Aylward, the Liberals are on track to finish behind the NDP. They only scored 22 per cent in the CRA poll, and their ground-game seems to be in some disarray.

However, the Liberals' history in the province is an advantage. Even with similar shares of the vote, the Liberals are likely to win more seats and thus form the official opposition. But with a good campaign, Michael could easily repeat the federal NDP's exploit and sit on the opposite side of the aisle from Kathy Dunderdale, the PC leader who is likely to be handed a majority government of her own.

The other island province heading to the polls this October, Prince Edward Island, is also expected to re-elect its incumbent government. The Liberals enjoy a gigantic lead over the Progressive Conservatives, and are even threatening to sweep all 27 seats in the province.

While post-federal election polls showed that the Island New Democrats were on the upswing, hitting 13 per cent in May, they have since dropped back to seven per cent in CRA’s polling. Their leader, James Rodd, scored only three per cent on the question of who would make the best premier. His numbers have not seen the kind of boost that other NDP leaders in the region have experienced, indicating that the orange wave may not have crossed the Northumberland Strait.

But in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, the NDP is holding on to the gains they made after the federal election. Darrell Dexter, the premier of Nova Scotia, is still leading by a comfortable margin and an Angus-Reid poll shows that his approval numbers, though still low at 33 per cent, are improving. In New Brunswick, the party that took 10 per cent of the vote in the 2010 election now stands at more than double that level of support.

It is still very early in the Atlantic campaigns, and the NDP appears to be going nowhere in PEI. But a breakthrough in Newfoundland and Labrador, coupled with a good showing in the Ontario election and a re-election in Manitoba, could be the cap on what has been a roller-coaster few months for the New Democrats.

Éric Grenier taps The Pulse of federal and regional politics for Huffington Post Canada readers on Tuesdays and Fridays. Grenier is the author of, covering Canadian politics, polls and electoral projections.

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