Businesswoman steps into the ring for Newfoundland Liberal leader
St. John’s businesswoman Cathy Bennett formally launches her Liberal leadership campaign in St. John’s Wednesday. — Photo by James McLeod/The Telegram
St. John’s businesswoman Cathy Bennett made her bid for the Liberal leadership official Wednesday, at a finely-tuned campaign launch in St. John’s.
With nearly 100 people in the room watching, Bennett declared she’s got a fire in her belly and she wants to lead the province.
“The Liberal party is going to make a comeback in Newfoundland and Labrador, and it is going to make a comeback with the help of all of you,” she said. “I’m committed to getting it done right. I’m committed to striking a balance of fiscal prudence with social sensitivity. That is what I believe in. That is why I’m Liberal.”
But right out of the gate, she’s facing questions about her commitment to the party. When fellow candidate Danny Dumaresque declared his intention to run on Tuesday he said, “I am a Liberal by conviction, not by opportunity.” That seemed to be a direct shot at Bennett.
She is probably best known for owning a string of McDonald’s fast food restaurants and other businesses. She was also instrumental in establishing Ronald McDonald House in St. John’s — an organization that supports sick children and their families.
Bennett was appointed by the Tory government as a board member of Nalcor in 2007, and in that position, she was intimately involved in the planning and development of the Muskrat Falls project. The Liberal Party, meanwhile, has been one of the most vocal opponents of the current plan to develop Muskrat Falls.
“I believe the business case works. We now must manage the project in a world-class way, on time, on budget, and ensure that the business case is fully realized,” Bennett said in her speech. “The best managers for the future of our province — which now includes Muskrat Falls — is the Liberal Party of Newfoundland and Labrador.”
Speaking to reporters, she said she believes as leader she could head up a caucus in the House of Assembly that has been aggressively critical of the $7.7-billion hydroelectric development.
“If I was going into politics expecting that every single person was going to be aligned with me, I probably picked the wrong profession,” she said. “The Liberal caucus did their job in the House of Assembly by asking questions.”
Other key planks in Bennett’s case for leadership include immigration and all-day kindergarten. She said the government needs to do more to encourage population growth and maximize the benefits of the current natural resources boom.
“The people of Newfoundland and Labrador deserve to benefit from the very things that are making our province so successful. People deserve good jobs, quality health care, healthy communities, and education that is about the growth of our children and grandchildren,” she said. “In order to deliver these, we need to increase the revenues of the province and we need to expand our tax base, and we need to do that by ensuring our resources are responsibly developed.”
Bennett also faced tough questions on donations she’s made to the PC Party in recent years; according to an analysis of campaign donation records by the CBC, she’s given $6,400 to the PC Party since 2004 compared to $500 to the provincial Liberals.
Bennett said she’s given money to anybody who’s asked her for it, and she also pointed to a fundraiser she personally organized for former Liberal MP Siobhan Coady.
“I think that it’s important for business leaders and people in the community to support democracy, and I’m not going to apologize for making contributions to a variety of parties when I’ve been asked,” she said. “When I’ve been asked, I have contributed.”
Coady was at Wednesday’s launch, and said she’s excited to see her friend enter the race.
“She’s been involved in a lot of community activity. She’s shown her strength, her intelligence, her capability in her community, and I think having her as part of the Liberal leadership contest is a great thing,” Coady said.
As for the nagging questions about Bennett’s political history, Coady said in the coming months, she’ll prove who she supports.
“We’re not exclusive; we are big thinkers and we want to hear alternate viewpoints,” Coady said. “Now it’s her job over the next five months to convince Liberals that she’s the right person to lead this party.”
At this point, current MHA Jim Bennett and former MHA Danny Dumaresque have already formally launched their campaigns. Interim leader Dwight Ball has said for more than a year that he plans to run, and he is expected to launch his campaign later this week.
Nominations for Liberal leader close Friday. Members and party supporters vote in November.