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Grits on fire

It's like a general election in slow motion. Wednesday's wins for the Liberals in two provincial byelections makes it seven in a row for a party that seems poised to leave the governing Tories in the dust in a general election next year.

In Trinity-Bay de Verde, Steve Crocker walloped PC candidate Ron Johnson, father of former cabinet minister Charlene Johnson. Crocker, executive assistant to Liberal Leader Dwight Ball, more than doubled the PC vote.

For the most part, Trinity-Bay de Verde has gone for the party in power: Charlene Johnson since 2003; Lloyd Snow during the Liberal reign before that. It's a swing district, and the pendulum has clearly moved into Liberal territory this time.

Considering the Tories were scrambling for a candidate before Johnson Sr. stepped in, the writing was on the wall already. Not even the novel Johnson-and-Johnson factor could save them.

But Humber East was a big shocker. It should have been a safe seat for the Progressive Conservatives.

Except for a brief period before Tom Marshall took it in 2003, it's been solidly PC since 1971. Even hometown hero Clyde Wells couldn't crack it when the Liberals took power in 1989. Wells had to run in Bay of Islands; incumbent Lynn Verge held the Humber East seat for 17 years in all.

PC candidate Lary Wells had a good public image. He was Tom Marshall's longtime executive assistant, and had plenty of Tory bigwigs on the hustings with him.

Days before the vote, Health Minister Steve Kent had been dangling the new Corner Brook hospital carrot, insisting construction will start next year although he was forced to admit the Tories had already delayed construction before.

The Wells team pulled out all the stops, but businessman Stelman Flynn still won handily by several hundred votes.

Humber East has a storied history. Its most controversial MHA was Tom Farrell.

Farrell was best known for a suspicious fire that broke out at his Elizabeth Towers apartment in April 1978. An officer leaked police reports to the Liberal opposition and the media, but Farrell was never charged. He successfully sued both The Telegram and the CBC for defamation.

Now, it's the Liberals who are on fire. They have all the momentum, and the Paul Davis government is looking at near extinction next year unless it can figure out how to douse the flames.

The NDP, meanwhile, has sunk to pre-Orange Crush numbers.

Davis would be foolhardy to drag things out until the fall of 2015 to call an election. The spring is his only option. And he has an almost insurmountable challenge now to gain voters' trust.

He could start by laying off the partisan game and actually listening to what people are saying. They're not all partisans. They just crave a new approach.


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