Liberals bracing for losses in Atlantic Canada as polls open on the East Coast

HALIFAX — Four years after Atlantic Canadians gave Justin Trudeau a sweeping electoral endorsement — handing his Liberals all 32 of the region’s seats — the party is bracing for losses that could have a significant impact on the final tally later tonight.

As voters head to the polls today, politicians of every stripe are keenly aware the Liberals have nowhere to go but down in the four easternmost provinces.

Even though the Liberals have maintained a lead in the polls in the region since June, Andrew Scheer’s Conservatives are counting on scoring victories in traditionally Tory ridings — particularly in northern Nova Scotia and southern New Brunswick.

However, the recent surge in voter support for the NDP — a trend seen across the country — is expected to make for some tight races in the Halifax area and northern New Brunswick and could siphon enough votes from the Liberals to deliver more Tory wins.

In Nova Scotia, the Liberals are facing challenges in five ridings where popular incumbents stepped down before the election race began — among them former Tories Scott Brison and Bill Casey.

In three of those ridings, the Tory challengers are well-known former provincial politicians, including former cabinet minister Chris d’Entremont in West Nova.

During the last week of the campaign, Trudeau travelled to three Nova Scotia ridings: the former NDP stronghold of Halifax and the northern ridings of Cumberland-Colchester and Central Nova — both traditionally Tory ridings.

In New Brunswick, the Conservatives are banking on a return of traditional voting patterns, particularly in southern districts where the English-speaking majority has typically voted Conservative.

On Friday, Scheer was in Fredericton, where he warned voters that a potential Liberal-NDP coalition would raise the GST or cut transfers to the provinces to pay for the parties’ campaign promises — assertions that were not backed up with any proof and were swiftly denied by Trudeau and NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh.

In northern New Brunswick and along the Acadian shore, where French-speakers dominate, the Liberals were expected to hold on to several safe seats, including Beausejour, held by cabinet minister Dominic LeBlanc since 2000, and Moncton-Riverview-Dieppe, held by Health Minister Ginette Petitpas Taylor.

In Newfoundland and Labrador, the NDP is counting on gains in the St. John’s area, and the Conservatives are hoping the riding of Egmont in western P.E.I. will once again turn Tory blue.

However, the Liberals are widely expected to hold on to virtually all of the seats in those two provinces.

Across the Atlantic region, health care, climate change and the cost of living appeared to be the top issues on voters’ minds during the 40-day campaign.

There’s little evidence to suggest voters were moved by revelations in late September that Trudeau had posed for photos showing him in blackface.

The Liberal leader’s apologies for what he admitted were racist acts seemed to placate voters, though Scheer repeatedly insisted the photos undermined Trudeau’s progressive image.

In Atlantic Canada, it appears there was a turning point on Oct. 7, when Singh delivered a strong performance during the English-language leaders debate.

Soon after the debate, polls showed the NDP gaining support across the region while the Liberals, Conservatives and Greens all slumped.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 21, 2019.

Michael MacDonald, The Canadian Press

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