Progressive Dreams Deferred in 2021 St. John’s City Election

Ophelia Ravencroft makes history in Ward 2, while a seven-way race in the At-Large field sees all incumbents—plus Ron Ellsworth—re-elected.

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Early in the evening of September 28—election night in St. John’s—The Space at Eastern Edge gallery on Harbour Drive was buzzing. Partly this was hope, partly this was nerves, and partly this was the free-flowing alcohol and pizza. We were posted up at a Social Justice Co-op party to watch the results come in, and see in real time whether a progressive wave was going to wash over the capital city—or whether the attempted council coup would collapse.

“Thank you for coming out to support the slate of rad baddies we had running in this election,” Volunteer Coordinator Lea Mary Movelle told the crowd shortly after the event began. The Social Justice Co-op had previously endorsed four At-Large candidates—Anne Malone, Jess Puddister, Meghan Hollett, and Maggie Burton, in that order—as well as Ward 1 candidate Mark Nichols and Ward 2 candidate Ophelia Ravencroft.

Of the loosely-affiliated slate in question, Malone was in attendance all night, alongside Nichols—who was presently moonlighting as the event bartender. Provincial NDP leader Alison Coffin also mingled with the crowd for a few hours as they awaited word about the new city council.

“I walked into this with just a conviction,” Malone told supporters. “Regardless of what happens tonight, this has been an amazing experience, and I am not going to stop doing the work.”

Nichols also took some time early in the evening to thank the crowd for their support.

“I’m way more comfortable with activism than politics,” he said. “I don’t like having to watch what I say. [But] I’m proud to be part of the unofficial slate of people who had new visions to make St. John’s a city for the 21st century.”

We had heard through the grapevine that election results might be posted as early as 9 PM, but this proved to be overly optimistic. When they finally arrived around 11:15, it was not what the crowd had been hoping for. While the At-Large race was extremely competitive—with two members of the ‘unofficial’ progressive slate coming within 300 and 700 votes, respectively, of unseating incumbent Debbie Hanlon—dreams of a left-leaning insurgency have been deferred for at least another four years.

Results of the 2021 St. John’s Election

Of 69145 eligible voters, 32567 wound up casting ballots in the 2021 St. John’s municipal election. Overall turnout was 47.10%, and this tended to favour the few incumbents running for re-election. Mayor Danny Breen, Deputy Mayor Sheilagh O’Leary, and Ward 4 councillor Ian Froude were returned to council by acclamation.

The At-Large race turned out to be a seven-way contest for the top four slots. Maggie Burton reclaimed her seat on city council, coming in with 16851 votes (14.74%)—the most of any candidate. She was followed by fellow incumbent Sandy Hickman, who had 12992 (11.36%). After being booted from council in 2017, Ron Ellsworth came back with a vengeance, right behind Hickman with 12933 votes in his favour (11.31%). Finally, Debbie Hanlon narrowly held on to her seat with 12179 votes (10.65%).

No newcomers made it into council but there were several strong showings. Less than 300 ballots separated challenger Meghan Hollett from Hanlon; Hollet received 11887 votes (10.40%). She was followed closely (400 votes) by Jess Puddister with 11487 (10.05%), who was in turn followed closely (157 votes) by Greg Smith at 11330 (9.91%). Anne Malone placed a more distant eighth, with 6856 votes (6.00%). She was followed by Tom Davis at 6650 (5.82%), Mark House at 4479 (3.92%), Paul Combden at 3969 (3.23%), Steve Parsons at 2206 (1.93%), and Raymond Petten with 770 (0.67%).

There were 13852 eligible voters in Ward 1, and no incumbent. Newcomer Jill Bruce placed first with 2871 votes (40.06%), followed by Mark Nichols at 2181 (30.43%) and Jenn Deon—running in her second election of 2021—at 2115 (29.51%). Overall voter turnout in Ward 1 was the highest in the city at 51.73%.

There were 14592 eligible voters in Ward 2, and no incumbent. Ophelia Ravencroft, who had previously run in the Ward 2 byelection in October 2020, won handily with 2758 votes (44.23%)—becoming the first transgender woman elected to public office in provincial history. She was followed by Art Puddister at 1561 (25.03%), Peter Whittle at 1237 (19.84%), and Derek Winsor at 680 (10.90%). Overall voter turnout in Ward 2 was 42.73%.

There were 14245 eligible voters in Ward 3, where Jamie Korab was the incumbent. Korab won re-election with 3109 votes (46.55%), followed closely by Greg Noseworthy at 2687 (40.23%). Walter Harding placed third with 883 (13.22%). Overall voter turnout in Ward 3 was 46.88%.

There were 14113 eligible voters in Ward 5, and no incumbent. Carl Ridgeley narrowly edged out Donnie Earle, with 2476 votes (36.34%) to 2463 (36.13%), respectively—a difference of 13 votes. Scott Fitzgerald placed third with 1250 (18.34%), followed by Brenda Walsh at 626 (9.19%). Overall voter turnout in Ward 5 was 48.28%.

The last date to file campaign contribution and expense declarations for the municipal election is Thursday, October 28. The new council will be sworn in on Tuesday, October 12. One of their first orders of business will be to deliver a new budget in December—where the city is expected to face a shortfall of between $10 and $13 million.

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