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Atlantic: Stays Liberal red

Globe and Mail Update

The Liberals held their ground in Atlantic Canada on Monday with 22 seats in the region — three more than they held at dissolution.

They were trailed by the Conservatives, who took seven seats (one fewer than the eight they had after the 2000 election) and were virtually unchanged in the popular vote.

The New Democratic Party won three seats, down one from their 2000 showing, but gained a higher percentage of the popular vote than in 2000.

Atlantic Canada is heavily populated by working-class people with strong connections to organized labour and would seem a natural breeding ground for the NDP. But the party has never really taken off outside Nova Scotia, where the party held three of its 14 seats at dissolution.

Alexa McDonough won her in Halifax riding and Peter Stoffer took Sackville-Eastern Shore in Nova Scotia. In New Brunswick, Yvon Godin handily won his seat in Acadie-Bathurst with 54 per cent of the vote.

In Newfoundland and Labrador, Liberal John Efford, the minister of Natural Resources, won his seat in Bonavista-Trinity-Conception and Gerry Byrne, the federal minister in charge of the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency held onto his.

In St. John's South, Tory MP Loyola Hearn squeaked past his Liberal rival with 39 per cent.

The Conservatives won another seat in Newfoundland, two seats in New Brunswick and three in Nova Scotia, including the Central Nova seat that party deputy leader Peter Mackay won with 43 per cent support.

Scott Brison, who crossed the floor from the Conservatives to the Liberals after the party's merger in December, won his Nova Scotia riding of Kings-Hants with 46 per cent.

Former liberal cabinet minister Andy Scott, took his Fredericton riding with 47 per cent.

In Prince Edward Island, which traditionally has the country's highest per capita turnout of voters, the four seats remained uniformly Liberal.

Making inroads in the Atlantic provinces was particularly important for the Conservatives, who have little support east of Ontario.

Conservative leader Stephen Harper had tried to win hearts by pledging tax cuts, economic development and amending the formula for equalization payments to leave more money in the pockets of all four provinces.

But Atlantic Canadians have been slow to forgive Mr. Harper, who caused an outrage two years ago by saying the region has a "culture of defeat" bred by Liberal policies.

Pre-election polls had suggested that neither the Liberals nor the Conservatives were headed for a majority in the 308-seat House of Commons, and predicted urban areas would vote Conservative, while rural ridings would support the Grits.

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