Loyola Sullivan announced Tuesday he’ll be running for the Conservatives in the May 2 election, but it was someone standing at the back of the room who drew a fair bit of attention.
House of Assembly Speaker Roger Fitzgerald was at the Hotel Mount Pearl to support Sullivan.
Now, NDP Leader Lorraine Michael is demanding he apologize for attending the event, as it undercuts his objectivity.
“The Speaker knows — or ought to know — that attending a partisan political gathering as a supporter is clearly in violation of his duty to be independent and politically neutral,” Michael said.
Michael cited a 2005 incident when then-speaker Harvey Hodder apologized to the House for attending a federal campaign event for MP Loyola Hearn.
Liberal House leader Kelvin Parsons also said it might not have been a wise move.
Premier Kathy Dunderdale said she didn’t think it was an issue.
“I certainly know Roger Fitzgerald and that he has a solid understanding of what his role is, and what’s appropriate and what isn’t,” she said.
For his part, Fitzgerald told the media he was at Sullivan’s announcement to support a longtime friend. The two men served together as opposition MHAs in the PC Party before Sullivan retired and Fitzgerald became speaker.
“Loyola Sullivan has been a longtime personal friend of mine for the past 20 years,” Fitzgerald said. “I got a call to come by to attend his announcement here that he’s going to be a candidate.”
Sullivan’s announcement formalizes the three-way race for the riding of St. John’s South-Mount Pearl. It is widely expected to be one of the closest ridings in the country.
At the kickoff, Sullivan emphasized his experience and the importance of having a member in government if Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Conservatives win the election.
“I have a long history and a proven track record,” he said. “I know how the federal political system operates, I know its key players. I know what takes to make a position heard in our nation’s capital.”
Sullivan was the finance minister under then-premier Danny Williams when the provincial government negotiated the Atlantic Accord with Ottawa under Prime Minister Paul Martin.
However, after the Accord was signed and Harper came to power, he was accused of going back on the deal, sparking a war of words between Williams and Harper. Williams accused Harper of breaking repeated promises to remove non-renewable natural resource revenues from the formula that was used to calculate equalization payments to the provinces.
“I have a long history and a proven track record. “I know how the federal political system operates, I know its key players. I know what takes to make a position heard in our nation’s capital.” - Loyola Sullivan
The fight between the two men culminated in the Anything But Conservative (ABC) campaign during the 2008 federal election, which in turn led to the Harper Government failing to win a single seat in Newfoundland and Labrador.
Asked about his history in the process, Sullivan said he’s focusing on the future, and praised Harper’s leadership through the tough economic times of the past few years.
“I’m a strong believer in looking forward and advancing our province’s agenda,” he said. “There’s many issues on the horizon for our province now and I’m prepared to work hard to advance our province’s interests.”
Since leaving provincial politics, Sullivan served as fisheries ambassador with the federal government.
Several provincial Progressive Conservative MHAs were at Sullivan’s campaign announcement, perhaps to make a point that the ABC campaign is firmly in the past.
“I’m certainly looking forward to working with them and seeing what a new government can deliver in terms of Newfoundland and Labrador,” said Ferryland MHA Keith Hutchings. “I think he brings a lot of attributes to the table that will be well served in Ottawa and in serving not only the riding, but certainly Newfoundland and Labrador.”
Sullivan’s opponents weren’t too impressed.
Incumbent Liberal MP Siobhan Coady said the election won’t be about Sullivan, it’ll be about Harper, and she’s hearing nothing good.
“At the doorstep, I’m hearing from the people that they have concerns,” she said. “They’re questioning what changed in two years with Mr. Harper; that is the question.”
NDP candidate Ryan Cleary was also knocking on doors Tuesday, and he echoed Coady that the ABC campaign is still going on.
“You hear the politicians say that there’s no official ABC campaign, but unofficially, the people haven’t bought into that,” Cleary said. “The people have a hard time warming up to Harper; they just can’t pretend like nothing happened.”