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Showdown in N.L.'s Windsor Lake byelection

Candidates in the Sept. 20 Windsor Lake provincial byelection from left: NDP Kerri Claire Neil; PC Ches Crosbie; Liberal Paul Antle.
Candidates in the Sept. 20 Windsor Lake provincial byelection from left: NDP Kerri Claire Neil; PC Ches Crosbie; Liberal Paul Antle. - David Maher

The newcomer, the lawyer and the businessman jockey for a seat in the House

The people of Windsor Lake have a big decision to make on Sept. 20.

Will the people give a vote of confidence to the current government and a businessman who’s long been in their midst?

Will they support a party whose signature project stares down upon the province and a lawyer born into a political dynasty?

Will they go with the party that has never held more than five seats in the House of Assembly and a young, passionate woman cutting her teeth as a politician?

The order that each candidate’s comments appear below relates to the order in which they responded to interview requests made by The Telegram.

The newcomer

Kerri Claire Neil has been making noise in St. John’s for at least the last three years, when she helped co-found Smash Patriarchy: An Action Team (SPAAT), a grassroots feminist collective.

Now a social economist and candidate for the New Democratic Party while finishing a master’s degree in sociology at Memorial University, Neil admits she’s jumped into the political world a little sooner than she first envisioned.

Neil
Neil

“Going into politics has always been a dream of mine, but I always imagined I’d be an older, wiser woman before I ran,” she said.

“But I’m angry. I’m frustrated with the way the province has been run. The status quo has not been working for us.”

Neil says it’s time to reorganize the priorities of the province. Following the lead of the federal New Democratic Party, Neil says making child care affordable is one of the changes she wants to see come to the provincial scale.

“Everybody’s looking at Quebec. They’ve implemented an incredible child care program that’s more affordable,” she said.

“It’s had an impact on their economic growth because women are able to contribute to the economy.”

Right out of the gate, Neil has made her views on Muskrat Falls one of the tenets of her campaign.

Neil says privatizing any aspect of the project would be the wrong move.

“I don’t think we should sell it off to private business. There’s a lot of danger in taking a basic necessity like electricity and heat and putting that in the hands of private businesses,” she said.

“This is our mess. We should clean it up.”

As the federal carbon pricing plan sees ups and downs across the country, Neil says this province needs its own version that makes big business pay.

“I was really disappointed when the Liberals introduced the gas tax. It’s similar to a carbon tax, except it only hurts individual consumers,” she said.

“We have to get rid of the gas tax, replace it with a carbon tax that charges more to the largest emitters, that would be our big multinational corporations.”

Neil says she’s worried about how women are treated when they enter public life, but she says she’s not afraid to step into the fray.

“They pushed a woman out of their caucus. Windsor Lake has a history of electing strong women, and I hope to continue that legacy and offer an alternative on the ballot.”

The lawyer

Progressive Conservative Leader Ches Crosbie has everything to gain and everything to lose in Windsor Lake.

Ches Crosbie.
Ches Crosbie.

He stands by previous comments that if he loses this byelection, he’ll have to step down as leader of his party. He says he’s not going to ignore the truth.

“It’s obvious to everybody that this is a vitally important byelection and will influence the chances of the PC party for forming a government in the next election. Why would I deny that that’s true?” he said.

“However, I don’t want to dwell on that and focus on that. I intend to win this byelection and I have every indication on the ground that I’m going to.”

Crosbie says his road to a seat in the House of Assembly is through drawing attention to higher taxes and increased cost of living underneath the Liberal government.

“What we saw the Liberals do in the last three years is impose roughly 300 different fee and tax increases and basically increase the cost of living for people dramatically, while at the same time doing no meaningful belt tightening of their own around government,” he said.

“It’s a powerful reason why we’ve lost population for each of the last seven quarters, the last two years of the Ball government.”

One of the places Crosbie says the province can tighten its belt is in health care.

“For example, in the health care system, we’ve heard Dr. Pat Parfrey talk about the choosing wisely program and that has to do with the hundreds of millions of dollars that are being wasted on unnecessary testing,” he said.

On Muskrat Falls, Crosbie says he’s encouraged by recent word from the provincial and federal governments that the Public Utilities Board and federal government will be engaged on the solution. He says Premier Dwight Ball must be listening to him — Crosbie has been advocating for those moves for months.

“I think the federal government is fully complicit in Muskrat Falls as it exists today. They participated jointly in the environmental panel which gave advice about Muskrat Falls and in full knowledge of that, decided to go ahead anyway,” he said.

“They are in this with us. They are our partners. They cannot wriggle out. We need leadership that is not afraid to have tough negotiations with tough opponents.”

The businessman

Sept. 20 will mark the third time Paul Antle’s name has appeared on a ballot in an election in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Antle says his goal in the byelection campaign will be to bring hope and optimism to the people of Windsor Lake.

Paul Antle.
Paul Antle.

“We’re back on track, I believe, in this province. Really, that’s my message: hope and optimism. That’s what I’m bringing to the campaign,” he said.

“I think I have something to offer the province. I’ve never shied away from a challenge. That’s why I’m there.”

Antle says he fully believes the premier when Ball says there’s to be no rate or tax increases to accompany Muskrat Falls’ completion in 2021. He says people are relieved to hear the message.

“The concern was real. People were stressed. People were talking of moving. People were looking for ways to get out from underneath that burden,” Antle said.

“I believe what our government has now done by separating the ratepayer from the Muskrat Falls mess, separating the taxpayer from that mess and the responsibility of that mess, is the right way to go.”

Antle doesn’t mind that no details about that plan have yet been released. He says he doesn’t have time for “negativity.”

“There’s all kinds of options that are in play, all kinds of tactics that are being explored to deal with the second piece of this strategy, which is dealing with that Nalcor liability. I am very comfortable with the path we are on,” he said.

Antle says there are parts of what the Liberal party has done since coming to power that haven’t been popular, but overall, he’s proud of what the party has accomplished.

“They’ve stabilized the financial base of the province and now we’re turning the corner and things are getting better. We’re on the right track,” he said.

“It was tough. Everybody will always have something they don’t like about what happened, but where we are today is a lot better off than we were three years ago.”

Three weeks away

Special ballot voting has begun for the Windsor Lake byelection.

As each candidate bruises their knuckles on the doors of Windsor Lake, the people they speak to will shape not only who sits in the House of Assembly, but who could sit in power at the end of 2019.

david.maher@thetelegram.com

Twitter: DavidMaherNL

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