Coffey breaks into Liberal leadership race; nominations close noon today
Things started to firm up Thursday in the race to replace Yvonne Jones as leader of the Liberal Party of Newfoundland and Labrador.
St. John’s lawyer Bern Coffey joined the race, and rumours were flying fast and furious Thursday night that former cabinet minister Chuck Furey will likely announce his candidacy this morning.
As of press time, there were only three confirmed candidates, Coffey, former Liberal MHA Danny Dumaresque and Brad Cabana, who tried to run for the PC party leadership earlier this year.
Prospective candidates will have to make up their minds quickly; nominations close at noon today, and the Liberal party brass will choose a leader by Monday morning.
On Tuesday, Jones stunned the party by announcing she would have to step down for health reasons.
With only two months to the provincial election, the party is rushing to select a replacement leader.
For most of the day, rumours were spreading like wildfire through the party that retired Gen. Rick Hillier would be entering the race. Media reports said he was making calls to party leaders and toying with the idea of a run.
By the end of the day, though, Hillier quashed the rumours, posting an emphatic denial on Facebook.
“There has been some speculation over the last hours that I was going to run for the leadership of the Liberal party of Nfld.,” Hillier said. “I’m not! Just don’t see that, at this point, as where I am going in life.”
Of the three contenders, Coffey is widely considered to be the frontrunner.
He is best known as the lawyer for the Cameron Inquiry. In 2008, his face was frequently seen on newscasts questioning medical professionals and politicians to get to the bottom of hundreds of breast cancer testing errors at Eastern Health.
Coffey told reporters he is interested in running to oppose the Muskrat Falls hydroelectric deal.
“I’ve been concerned about the direction that the government of this province is heading in,” he said.
Coffey also pointed to the use of “windfall” oil revenues in the provincial budget, saying it can’t be sustained.
“You can’t run a government in a medium- or a long-term on that basis,” he said. “It just can’t go on. Our current government has no plan in place to deal with it. And I would, as a premier, develop such a plan and implement it.”
With only a few hours to get in or get out, all eyes will be on Furey this morning, as he decides whether to jump into the fray.
MHA Marshall Dean was also musing at joining the race, but sources said he was a less likely contender.
Dean told The Telegram Thursday afternoon he’s still mulling it over, but the whole thing was a big surprise to him.
“This kind of came somewhat suddenly on us,” he said. “Forty-eight hours is not a lot of time (to make a decision.)”