In Newfoundland and Labrador, Liberal politicians back away from Trudeau

ST. JOHN’S, N.L. — As a provincial byelection approaches in a long−held Progressive Conservative riding in Newfoundland, there’s something conspicuously hard to find on the Liberal candidate’s campaign signs: the name of his party.

Instead, Fred Hutton’s signs are emblazoned with Liberal Premier Andrew Furey’s last name against a white backdrop — not red — with "Newfoundland and Labrador Liberals" in small, barely perceptible, text.

Alex Marland, a political science professor at Acadia University in Wolfville, N.S., says he was surprised to see how blatantly the Newfoundland and Labrador Liberals seem to be distancing themselves from their federal counterparts as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s popularity drops in the polls.

He says it shows not only how important public opinion polls are but how much a federal party leader’s popularity can influence provincial politics.

Tim Powers, managing director of Abacus Data, said the move was smart, noting that Furey — the only Liberal provincial premier in the country — polls well and has managed to create a brand for himself.

Powers says Newfoundland and Labrador Liberal MP Ken McDonald may also see a political benefit after he told Radio−Canada last week that Trudeau had reached his "best−before" date, even though McDonald later walked that back.

In an interview, Hutton said the branding of his campaign was not his decision. However, he was clear about his allegiances: "I’m running for Team Furey, the premier of Newfoundland and Labrador."

He also dismissed the Progressive Conservatives’ efforts to link the provincial and federal Liberals, referring to the "Furey−Trudeau Liberals" in their press releases. Hutton noted that Furey pushed back against the federal carbon pricing scheme and its impact on home heating costs.

"The opposition likes to try to paint it as though they are provincial taxes. They are not," said Hutton, who has been a senior adviser to Furey since 2020, when the premier was sworn in.

"I’m not connected with the federal Liberals at all," he added. "I’m running for the provincial Liberal party. They’re two separate parties."

Voting is set for Tuesday in the Conception Bay East−Bell Island byelection, after a winter storm delayed the polls by one day. The Conservative candidate is Tina Neary, while Kim Churchill is running for the NDP and Darryl Harding is running as an Independent.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 29, 2024.

The Canadian Press

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