No one in the room Saturday night seemed to be willing to acknowledge that businessman Dean MacDonald might be the next leader of the Liberal party.
But MacDonald — and many others — weren’t ruling out that possibility either.
MacDonald was the keynote speaker at the Port de Grave district association annual fundraising dinner.
MacDonald has worked closely with former premier Danny Williams in business, and he has served as chairman of Newfoundland Hydro. He is someone who has been talked about for years as a potential leader of the Liberal party, and shortly after the provincial election last fall, he started openly musing about the possibility.
Decries lack of vision
In Upper Island Cove Saturday night, MacDonald devoted nearly all of his 30-minute speech to attacking the current government, and making the case that the Progressive Conservatives, led by Premier Kathy Dunderdale, lack vision and cannot competently manage the province.
MacDonald attacked Dunderdale on what he saw as poor fiscal management, and while he said he’s in favour of the Muskrat Falls project, he thinks the government has “fumbled” the process to get it developed.
“I don’t think we have a vision, I don’t think we have a plan for the province. I don’t feel that we’re all on a team who all know where we’re headed,” MacDonald said. “The party that’s been in power too long believes their own bullshit, and the party that will sweep into power doesn’t, and that’s us.”
He didn’t really get into it in his speech, but MacDonald left the clear impression that he is someone who has a vision for the province.
MacDonald continued to play coy about whether he’s actually interested in running for office and trying to take the reins of the party.
Current Leader Dwight Ball has the job on an interim basis, and the party plans to pick a new permanent leader some time in 2013 or 2014.
“I’m happy to be active,” MacDonald said. “There’s no leadership race, you know. I’ve said I’m interested at some point in the future, but I’m still a very young man, and I really like what Dwight is doing to rebuild the party. He’s to be commended.”
Party members in the room were similarly coy.
Nobody was ready to come right out and endorse MacDonald as a future leader, but one party member specifically requested that The Telegram make a note when he got a standing ovation at the end of his speech.
Retired Port de Grave MHA Roland Butler said he liked what he heard in MacDonald’s speech.
“I think Mr. MacDonald, seems to me the type of individual that has the attention of the people,” he said. “I think he’ll catch on and it will be something that will really add to the Liberal Party.”
Current west coast MHA Andrew Parsons said what MacDonald was saying was what a lot of Liberals are feeling right now.
“He delivers a message that’s pretty consistent among all of us that the current government lacks vision,” Parsons said. “Even when I talk to people on the street, no matter if I’m in St. John’s or Port Aux Basques, people have issues with the current government.”
MacDonald is currently involved in a Liberal “renewal committee” along with former leader Kevin Aylward and former MP Siobhan Coady. They plan to tour the province in the coming months to try to reconnect to the rank-and-file party members.
Many Liberals at Saturday night’s dinner acknowledged that there have been problems in the past. Longtime Liberal and retired MHA John Crane said the party is coming through a state of “disarray” right now.
“Right now we’re nothing to be happy with, but I think with the right group, I think we could rebuild pretty fast,” he said.
MacDonald, for his part, ended his speech with a call for party unity.
“We have to as a party make sure that we work together — no fights. Let’s get this province back to where it should be, because right now I’ve got to tell you, I’m worried about it,” he said. “I actually believe that that’s very, very possible, and it looks like it’s going to have to be us to do it.”