N.L. Tories win majority, lose ag minister

The minister in charge of Newfoundland and Labrador’s agrifoods agency has wound up unemployed in the governing Tories’ march to a third majority provincial government in a row.

Shawn Skinner, the MHA for St. John’s Centre and the provincial minister of natural resources since December last year, lost his seat Tuesday night to the NDP’s Gerry Rogers by a spread of 528 votes, according to unofficial results from Elections Newfoundland and Labrador.

Premier Kathy Dunderdale, who preceded Skinner in the natural resources portfolio (which includes responsibility for the province’s Forestry and Agrifoods Agency), on Tuesday handily won her first election since being appointed last year to replace Danny Williams as premier.

Her Tories earned 37 of 48 seats in the provincial House of Assembly, compared to six for the Liberals and a record showing of five for the provincial New Democrats.

Among returning Tory MHAs who could take over the natural resources and Forestry and Agrifoods Agency portfolio, a likely candidate would be Steve Kent, the MHA for Mount Pearl North. Kent, a former mayor of Mount Pearl, was named in October 2010 as parliamentary secretary to the minister responsible for the Forestry and Agrifoods Agency.

Other MHAs with relevant experience in food and agrifoods include Labrador West MHA Nick McGrath, a businessman and one-time Restaurateur of the Year, and Dan Crummell, the new MHA for St. John’s West and a regional sales manager for Molson Canada.

Choosing an agrifoods critic may be more difficult for the opposition Liberals. Their most likely choice, party leader Kevin Aylward, a former provincial minister of forest resources and agrifoods, lost in St. George’s-Stephenville East to incumbent Tory MHA Joan Burke by a spread of 707 votes.

Roland Butler, who before Tuesday was the Liberals’ critic for the Forestry and Agrifoods Agency, did not seek re-election. His seat of Port de Grave fell to Tory candidate Glenn Littlejohn on Tuesday night.

Other returning Liberals with background on the agrifoods file include Bay of Islands MHA Eddie Joyce, who previously served as natural resources critic.

The provincial NDP finds itself in the unusual position of being able to spread critic posts among five MHAs, up from one — that of party leader Lorraine Michael — before Tuesday’s election.

New MHAs with some form of experience on the resources file include George Murphy (St. John’s East), a founder of the Consumer Group for Fair Gas Prices; provincial party president Dale Kirby (St. John’s North), who was raised on a farm on the Burin Peninsula; and Christopher Mitchelmore (The Straits-White Bay North), founder of the blog LiveRuralNL.com.

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