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NEWS: Conservatives lose by-election in Labrador

Conservative cabinet minister Peter Penashue was defeated in a by-election in Labrador this evening. The Canadian Press reports, “Penashue urged voters to give him a second chance, saying he was guaranteed a spot back in Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s cabinet. (Defence minister Peter MacKay also made that pitch recently to voters in Labrador in support of Penashue.) But his message didn’t resonate as he finished a distant second.” Instead, Liberal candidate Yvonne Jones won the traditionally Liberal held seat. “She reminded voters that even with Penashue in cabinet, the province saw cuts to search and rescue services, employment insurance crackdowns and no sign of long promised new funding for the 5 Wing Goose Bay military base.”

CBC adds, “The stakes were high for the governing party. Since taking power in 2006, the ruling Conservatives had never lost a by-election in a seat they held prior to the vote. As Jones referenced in her victory speech, that changed Monday night. …The Labrador by-election (was also) widely viewed as a crucial first test for Trudeau as new Liberal leader.”

And the Globe and Mail notes, “Penashue has lost his gambit that the voters of Labrador would prefer to have a seat at the Conservative cabinet table than punish him for spending more than he was allowed in the general election two years ago.” The Canadian Press report explains, “Elections Canada records show Penashue exceeded his (2011 election) campaign spending limit of $84,468.09 by $5,529.76 while also accepting tens of thousands of dollars in off-limits donations. They included cash from 16 listed corporations and non-monetary contributions from two airlines that flew him around the riding.”

Muskrat Falls
When Penashue resigned his seat in March, he boasted as an accomplishment, “I have worked to secure federal support for the development of Muskrat Falls…” But as APTN reported, “Penashue (was) dogged by criticism over personal and business ties to the $7.4 billion Muskrat Falls project in his home riding… There is no straight line between Penashue and the Muskrat Falls project, but the winding path begins with his (financial) filings (updated in December 2012) and flows through a company headed by his wife and a separate firm headed by two senior executives with (the) firm Pennacon. Pennacon is in a business partnership with Penashue’s brother Max Penashue and their firm, Liannu LLP, is actively pursuing and landing contracts from the Muskrat Falls project.”

The Liberal candidate Penashue defeated in the 2011 federal election by 79 votes is an opponent of the Muskrat Falls dam (an outcome now tainted by the spending scandal). Even Penashue’s mother is against the dam. Elizabeth Penashue, a respected Innu elder, has said, “I’m very, very concerned (about) what’s going to happen. It’s not only the fish that are going to die. I don’t know how many animals are going to die.”

In late-April, the Canadian Press reported that Jones was not satisfied with the benefits of Muskrat Falls for Labradorians. “She also supports the efforts of the NunatuKavut Community Council to advance a 22-year-old land claim in Ottawa. The group has protested its exclusion from Muskrat Falls benefits because its land claim has not been federally recognized.” But in November 2012, CBC reported Jones, who had been a sharp critic of Muskrat Falls, said she would be willing to back the dam if it benefited her constituents. “Jones wants a commitment on low power rates for coastal communities, paving for gravel roads, and power set aside for mining.”

Commentary on the environmental harm related to the dam can be read in the blog ‘NEWS: Harper backs Muskrat Falls dam for cheap power for mining companies’ at http://canadians.org/blog/?p=18204.