Jones focused on 2011 provincial election
Liberal Leader Yvonne Jones
Liberal Leader Yvonne Jones rode an emotional roller coaster in 2010.
About a month after being acclaimed full-time leader of the Official Opposition — after leading the party on an interim basis since 2007 — she announced she had been diagnosed with cancer and would be taking a leave of absence.
“It’s been a challenging year for me personally. There’s no doubt about that,” Jones said in a year-end interview with The Telegram.
“I was happy to be acclaimed leader of the Liberal party and to be able to lead the party into the next election. The lowest point, obviously, was my diagnosis with breast cancer.”
But Jones said everyone has challenging times and it’s important to stay positive.
“It’s like everything in life. No matter how bad it is, you have to look for the good.”
Jones said before her diagnosis, she had never experienced such a significant health issue, and, ironically, it came at a time when she felt healthier than she had in a long time.
She went public as a way to convince the government to lower the screening age for breast cancer from 50 to 40 years old.
Jones planned to introduce a private member’s bill in the House of Assembly this fall asking for the change, but because of her health, she wasn’t able to sit in the House this fall.
Her plan now is to table that legislation in the spring.
Overall, Jones thought 2010 was a mixed bag of good and bad for the province.
“One of the high points … is we’ve had continued growth in the oil and gas sector and it has allowed us to achieve a balanced budget,” she said.
But Jones said higher oil production this year means less oil to come out of the ground in future years.
The Liberal leader is also happy the province accepted the majority of commissioner Robert Wells’ recommendations following the inquiry into offshore helicopter safety, but she’s waiting to see if and how those recommendations will be implemented.
The inquiry stems from the 2009 crash of a Cougar helicopter which killed 17 people.
Jones also gave a thumbs-up to provincial spending on public buildings, roads and new ferries, but noted the provincial budget has doubled in seven years.
“Therefore, we should not have the infrastructure gaps that we had seven years ago,” she said.
Jones contends the province is generating revenue from mining and offshore royalties, yet still has the country’s highest unemployment rate, has created few new jobs and is not doing enough to diversify the economy.
More people in rural parts of the province need access to broadband Internet, she said, to improve the chances of creating work in smaller outports.
She said one of her goals heading into the next provincial election in October is to close the gap between rich and poor and redistribute the province’s wealth.
Increasing poverty and a housing crisis, especially on the Northeast Avalon, she said, means young people can’t afford homes.
And Jones worries about rural area as the government prepares to release it’s memorandum of understanding on the fishing industry, which the Liberals believe will mean fishplant closures and the death of some small communities.
The lowest point of 2010, Jones said, was the swath of destruction across the Bonavista and Burin peninsulas left by hurricane Igor in September.
“It affected a lot of families and is still affecting a lot of people,” said Jones.
And there were other low points, she said.
“Removing the air ambulance from St. Anthony was obviously a low point. As an Opposition we fought to improve that service, to add additional ambulance services in Labrador, to (add) medevac teams in St. Anthony as a means or increasing and boosting the service,” she said.
Jones feels the move was vindication for the Liberals’ win in The Straits-White Bay North byelection last fall.
She also wasn’t impressed with the way the government handled negotiations with physicians.
“I think government has really mismanaged that entire issue, right from the beginning,” she said.
Jones also thought a strike by modestly paid job coaches, who work with disabled people, went on far too long.
“I was happy to be acclaimed leader of the Liberal party and to be able to lead the party into the next election. The lowest point, obviously, was my diagnosis with breast cancer.” Liberal Leader Yvonne Jones
“What they did to the workers in Burin was absolutely shameful,” she said.
“They left these people out in the street for a whole year on a picket line. There was every reason to (end) this strike at a minimal cost to government and they chose not to.”
Jones had a lot to say about the term sheet former premer Danny Williams signed to develop a hydro project at Muskrat falls in November.
She said said Muskrat Falls is not the Lower Churchill as it doesn’t include the second, larger dam at Gull Island.
“The term sheet that was signed on Muskrat Falls obviously is a turning point of that development. We’ll have to wait and see where it goes.”
She said Liberal research suggests it may not be feasible to proceed with only part of the original Lower Churchill project.
She also claims Muskrat Falls alone has no real benefit for the people and will cost taxpayers a small fortune in the short term.
“Do we want to see Muskrat Falls developed? Absolutely we do. We want to see Gull Island developed; we do. We think that there is benefits for the whole province in the joint project and we think that it still can be done.”
Jones said her party will also be keeping an eye on the term sheet signed with Nova Scotia and Emera Energy.
“You need to remember, if all these terms are not met come November of 2011, that this deal is off the table. This has a short shelf-life and to accomplish everything that is there by 2011 means there’s going to have to be some tremendous co-operation on behalf of the federal government, and so far we’re not seeing that happen …,” she said. “We’ll have to wait and see if it’s actually a deal at all come next November or if it’s gone out the window.”
Jones isn’t convinced the province will get a loan guarantee from the feds to proceed with the project considering Ottawa had to settle a $130-million North American Free Trade Agreement challenge by AbitibiBowater this year, after this province expropriated the company’s timber and water assets.
Meanwhile, the provincial election is Jones’ focus as she looks ahead to 2011.
She believes the political gap left by Williams has created a level of desperation in the Tory caucus that her party can exploit.
“This is not the government they were (just) weeks ago,” said Jones.
“It changes everything for us. We were preparing to go into an election against a leader that was 80 per cent in the polls.”
Now, instead of focusing on winnable seats, the Liberals will be gunning for full victory.
“The strength of the Conservative party was really in Danny Williams, and that’s not there anymore,” Jones said.
“Our intention, and our strategy, is to go into an election in the fall with a full policy (plan) we can provide to the people of Newfoundland and Labrador and with the intention of winning the government.”
To get ready, the Liberals will launch a series of consultations around the province to help develop their political platform.
Another focus will be candidate recruitment.
“This election, I think, is going to be fought candidate by candidate,” said Jones.
“The voter in every district is going to stop and look at who they are electing as a representative as opposed to just voting for a government or voting for a leader.”
Jones thinks Williams’ popularity was the main reason the Liberals did so poorly in 2010’s two byelections.
“Obviously, we had hoped to do much better. We went into both these byelections knowing we couldn’t win the seat simply because they were held by very prominent Tories,” she said.
“But I really think that both of those byelections were about voting for Danny Williams and I don’t think anybody really looked at the candidates on the ground.”