Liberal candidate Fred Hutton has won the byelection in Conception Bay East-Bell Island and will become Newfoundland and Labrador's newest MHA. (Heather Gillis/CBC)
Liberal candidate Fred Hutton has won the byelection in Conception Bay East-Bell Island and will become Newfoundland and Labrador's newest MHA.
Through all 51 reported polls, Hutton defeated PC candidate Tina Neary, 2,603 votes to 2,152 votes — securing 45.9 per cent of the vote to Neary's 37.9 per cent.
The NDP's Kim Churchill garnered 14.9 per cent of the votes with 846, while Independent candidate Darryl Harding received 70 votes for 1.2 per cent of the vote.
"Tonight, we start a new chapter," Hutton told supporters shortly after the win was projected. "It feels great."
The win marks the first time the district has switched hands since 2003. David Brazil, who had been the district's MHA since 2010 — winning 56.2 per cent of the vote in the 2021 election — resigned in December to focus on his health following a heart attack in 2022.
Premier Andrew Furey was quick to celebrate the win, welcoming Hutton to the podium.
"Twenty years a Tory district. Tory no more, Fred Hutton," Furey said with a large smile. "Fred's going to contribute a lot. He's already contributed a lot to the province [and] wants what's best for Newfoundland and Labrador."
Hutton is a prominent former journalist with stints at NTV, VOCM and the CBC. He has also worked alongside Premier Andrew Furey since he was elected in 2020, often travels with Furey to news conferences and events with the premier, and took a leave from his office to run in the byelection.
"I've sat at the desk before when I've watched and read the announcements coming in for the numbers in elections. I always found that very exciting. I can tell you it's very different from this side," he said with a laugh.
Hutton told the crowd he was skeptical and nervous about deciding to run, but speaking with residents of the district affirmed for him that it was the right thing to do.
"Thank you for your endorsement, thank you for your confidence, thank you for your trust," he said.
PC candidate Tina Neary congratulates Hutton after the winner was declared. (Heather Gillis/CBC)
Voting took place from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., a day later than scheduled, after a winter storm that hit the Avalon Peninsula on Monday forced a delay. About 45 per cent of the district's 12,612 eligible voters, according to Elections N.L., cast a ballot.
Issues on the minds of voters, highlighted at a debate earlier this month, include the cost of living, improving ferry service for the region, frequent emergency room closures in Wabana and improving health care.
Hutton said the vote is an endorsement of Furey and the work the party has done, adding he was saddened that he couldn't celebrate the win with his friend and former cabinet minister Derrick Bragg, who died earlier this month following a diagnosis of tongue cancer last year.
Asked whether he was considering calling a general election following the momentum of the win, Furey said he's only focused on celebrating the victory for the people in the district and the province.
"The election, as I've said many times, it'll sort itself out," he said.
The party has another vacancy following Bragg's death, but Furey said he hasn't thought about calling a byelection.
"I personally have been in a period of mourning," he said. "I haven't given any thought to it."
The provincial NDP released a statement thanking Churchill for her candidacy.
"For a political first-timer her effort and dedication was nothing short of awe-inspiring. She stood up and demanded better for the people of the district, and we look forward to her success in future campaigns," said provincial party president Raj Sharan in the statement.