Liberal Leader Kevin Aylward believes Kathy Dunderdale’s Conservatives have lost their way, and his party can do better.
“They are out of control. In fact, they are on cruise control. They have been shameless in their sense of entitlement,” he said, getting the Grit election machine rolling Monday morning.
Aylward kicked off the campaign in front of Confederation Building. It’s a familiar place for the man who took the party reins in mid-August after Yvonne Jones stepped aside for health reasons. Aylward sat in the House of Assembly from 1985 to 2003 and served as a cabinet minister for eight years.
With the Liberal bus and a number of candidates behind him, Aylward told reporters and supporters he was seeking a new seat.
“I want the job of premier of Newfoundland and Labrador,” he said.
In order for him to sit in the big chair and bring the Liberals to power after eight years of Tory rule, Aylward and his party have a steep mountain to climb.
The Grits sit in third place, according to the latest poll, with 22 per cent of decided voters supporting them. The Conservatives are way out in front with 54 per cent support, while the New Democrats have 24 per cent.
Despite the Tories’ apparent popularity, Aylward said people are crying out to be heard.
“This is especially true in rural Newfoundland and Labrador, where the rural agenda has been forgotten by the Dunderdale government,” he said.
Aylward indicated Monday he’s been in a similar poll position before — as a candidate in the 1989 election when Liberal Clyde Wells overcame a 31 point deficit and defeated the Tom Rideout-led Tories.
“I see déja vu all over again,” he said.
It appears the Liberals will focus on energy, health, seniors and natural resources to try and grapple power away from the PCs, to go from four seats to a majority.
The proposed Muskrat Falls hydroelectric development will undoubtedly be the prime energy issue.
Aylward said the party is not opposed to a Lower Churchill development, but not at any cost to ratepayers and democracy, or at the risk of “another bad energy deal.”
He called for an independent review of the proposal and said his party would curb spending on the project.
The fishery will also get a lot of Liberal attention. Aylward said the industry has been neglected by the Dunderdale government and his party’s fish policy has been “stirring the pot” since it was announced Friday.
The Liberal leader believes the province is being divided between those who have and have not. The Liberals, he said, would ensure wealth is shared and money is invested wisely. He noted it is important that some oil revenue be tucked away for the future.
“This election is not about the shape of our province in the next four years, but it’s going to be about the next 20 to 25 years.”
Aylward also accused the Dunderdale government of “playing peekaboo politics” — spending on big ticket items like arenas in districts where a cabinet minister needs help.
He said the Tories are taking people for granted and don’t seem to care about the consequences of their decisions.
“It’s doesn’t matter because they expect you, the public, to vote for them.”
Aylward touted the strength of Liberal candidates and promised the party would run a full slate this election. (It was one person short in 2007.)
The Liberals have been struggling financially for a number of years and are reported to be hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt.
Asked how his party would pay for its campaign, he said it has the resources for a credible and aggressive run.
“We’re going to be fine,” he said.
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