Former Liberal leader Yvonne Jones doesn’t mince words.
For Jones, it was the year she beat cancer, but also the year she was forced to step down as party leader because of her health.
The Liberal Party retained Official Opposition status in the fall provincial election, but it has recently fallen to 13 per cent public support in the polls — the lowest levels in party history.
“I can honestly say that 2011 is a year that I won’t regret putting behind me, in a lot of ways,” Jones said. “I dealt with a number of challenges personally.”
Jones sat down and spoke with The Telegram earlier this month in her final days as Opposition leader. Earlier this month, Humber Valley MHA Dwight Ball was named as the new interim leader.
Jones was officially told by her doctors she was cancer-free in the spring of this year, following surgery, chemotherapy and radiation. However, in August, when she found that she wasn’t recovering from treatment as quickly as she expected, Jones was forced to step down from the party leadership only two months before the provincial election.
With a few months’ distance, Jones said she doesn’t have any regrets.
“I’ve never really given much thought. I’ll be honest with you, I made the decision and I was firm in the decision I made,” she said. “I let the party take control from there.”
Former MHA Kevin Aylward, who picked up the reins from Jones, acknowledged the changeover represented a “crisis” for the party, but at the same time, “the outcome for the Liberal Party in 2011 was successful — given the circumstances.”
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Aylward failed to win a seat in the provincial election though, so earlier this month the party announced that Ball would move into the leader’s role.
As Ball took the reins of the party, he talked about a need to reinforce the organization of the party, and get in touch with rank-and-file members.
“I believe that team building is what we need right now. We need to reach out to Newfoundlanders and Labradoreans, to listen to their hopes and to their dreams,” he said. “I plan on spending a lot of time on the road, engaging the grassroots of the party and encouraging new interest in what we have to offer.”
Apart from rebuilding the structure of the party, the Liberals face challenges on the issues, as well.
Jones made the Muskrat Falls hydroelectric development central to the party’s policy position. During the spring session of the House of Assembly, she asked questions on the issues every day, in some cases devoting more than half of the party’s allotted time to the single issue.
During the election, Aylward made the fishery front-and-centre to his election platform, and argued that the government hasn’t done enough to support rural Newfoundland.
Neither issue gained traction with the voters, though, and in the wake of the election the Progressive Conservative government is moving forward with a mandate to develop Muskrat Falls.
Jones said she believes the voters don’t fully understand the development deal yet, and she hopes that will change before it’s too late.
“The majority of the people in this province today do not really understand the full implications of what Muskrat Falls will actually mean to them in terms of their own financial situation,” she said. “Unfortunately, in Newfoundland and Labrador, we often become engaged in the debate once the debate is over, and I hope that doesn’t happen with Muskrat Falls.”
But as the party moves into 2012, sitting at 16 per cent in a recent public opinion poll, Jones put forward a confident face, saying she’s proud to be a Liberal.
“Liberal governments have contributed more to the success of this province than any other political party in our history,” she said. “It was a Liberal government and a Liberal party that negotiated the best deals in our history. Do I have any shame in that? Absolutely not.”