By Randall Palmer
OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canada's Liberals regained a seat in the House of Commons on Monday in a race viewed as an early test of the popularity of the party's new leader, Justin Trudeau, son of former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau.
Liberal candidate Yvonne Jones had 50.8 percent of the vote and incumbent Conservative Peter Penashue only 29.1 percent, with 86 of the 91 polls reporting.
The third largest party in the House of Commons, the Liberals have vaulted to first place in national polls since Trudeau won the party's leadership a month ago. He campaigned hard to retake the seat in the province of Newfoundland and Labrador, on Canada's Atlantic coast.
"Today we have demonstrated that the Liberal message of hope and hard work is resonating, and that Canadians are tired of the Conservatives' politics of cynicism, division and fear," Trudeau, 41, said in a statement, pledging that the victory in Newfoundland was only the beginning.
Penashue, who had served as intergovernmental affairs minister, resigned in March after it emerged that his campaign accepted illegal corporate donations in the 2011 general election. His campaign also spent more than the C$84,468 ($83,362) limit.
He blamed an inexperienced campaign official for the violations and said he knew nothing about the issues, but the scandal cost the Conservatives their only seat in the province. The Liberals have held it for 58 of the 64 years that Newfoundland and Labrador has been part of Canada.
The results marked the first time the Conservative Party failed to defend a seat between general elections since it was formed as a merger of two rival right-wing parties in 2003.
The Conservatives, led by Stephen Harper, have been in power since 2006. The next federal election is due in October 2015.
Defense Minister Peter MacKay, campaigning on Penashue's behalf, had said that Penashue was guaranteed a seat in cabinet as the only member of Parliament from Newfoundland.
Trudeau, a former teacher, has been in Parliament for less than five years, and his leadership victory reflected both his family name and his personal magnetism. His father was prime minister for all but nine months from 1968-84.
Past efforts by Trudeau on behalf of other candidates before he became party leader had proved less successful, failing to produce Liberal seats in special elections last November or in a similar Toronto area election two years earlier.
Opinion polls for April, the month when Trudeau became party leader, put the Liberals ahead of the Conservatives nationally for the first time since June 2009, with an average 33.4 percent support, compared to 30.2 percent for the Conservatives.
The poll average is compiled by the political blog www.threehundredeight.com.
(Reporting by Randall Palmer; Editing by Cynthia Osterman and Paul Simao)