Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Byelection loss reminder that image matters

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The federal Conservatives tried to spin their loss in a Labrador byelection as par for the course for majority governments, but the fact is, the Tories deserved to lose and voters knew it.

The Conservative candidate was former cabinet minister Peter Penashue, who quit as MP in March. He resigned because he said he wanted to regain the trust of voters after Elections Canada accused him of exceeding his campaign-spending limit.

Labrador voters, however, weren't in a forgiving mood and voted in Liberal Yvonne Jones, who won 48 per cent of the popular vote compared with 33 per cent for Penashue.

The result isn't surprising, but what is surprising -- and troubling -- is that Stephen Harper's Conservatives continued to back Penashue despite his campaign spending troubles, which also included tens of thousands in off-limits donations. The former MP chalked it all up to rookie mistakes.

We applaud Penashue for letting the voters decide his fate, but his mistakes should have been reason enough for him to run under a different banner. But not only did he continuously receive Harper's endorsement in the leadup to the byelection, he was promised another cabinet post in a superficial bid to woo voters.

The Conservatives should have cut ties with Penashue when the scandal came to light, and now, not only is the government down an MP, it has to deal with a resurgent Liberal party.

With a federal election two years away, the Conservatives would be wise to remember the misdeeds of the Liberal government they replaced in 2006, as public mistrust will almost certainly lead to change.

Indeed, the governing party would do well to pay more attention to its own image and focus less on the image of Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 16, 2013 A13

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