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Newfoundland and Labrador Liberals set sights on 2019 election

Premier Dwight Ball chats with people who attended the Liberal convention in Gander over the weekend.
Premier Dwight Ball chats with people who attended the Liberal convention in Gander over the weekend. - Ashley Fitzpatrick

Premier says results of leadership review vote ‘a big endorsement’

Before the close out of the Newfoundland and Labrador Liberal convention in Gander, Dwight Ball was at the podium, giving his promise to lead the party to a win in the 2019 provincial election.

There was clapping. The cheers erupted in the room: “Dwight! Dwight! Dwight!”

Before the event, the premier committed the party would emerge united and energized, under his leadership. And no public challenge did emerge — with delegates voting 79 per cent in favour of specifically not going down the road of a leadership challenge.

“It’s a good number (79 per cent). It’s a big endorsement,” Ball said, speaking with reporters at the tail end of the Premier’s Banquet Saturday night, a few hours after the results of the vote were announced.

“And we’re in great shape financially and our district associations are in great shape. So I’m looking forward, as I said, to getting back to work, and looking forward to 2019,” he said.

Ball is already establishing the early party lines.

During the weekend, he repeatedly described the province’s Progressive Conservatives as “the party responsible for the Muskrat Falls” hydroelectric project and more generally the “foxes” who can’t be allowed to again “guard the henhouse” of the public interest.

Financial position, policy positions

In terms of Liberal finances, longtime party treasurer Glenn Barnes reported the Liberals are out of debt and on the way to a goal of $2.4 million in the bank by 2023.

The party was once almost bankrupt, he acknowledged, with about $855,000 in debt roughly five years ago. 

The crowd listens to speakers at the Liberal convention.
The crowd listens to speakers at the Liberal convention.

The plan right now, he said, is to raise at least $500,000 between the weekend convention and the election in November 2019.

“These goals are realistic. These goals are achievable,” he told the gathering.

Ball told reporters the party’s fundraising goals will not affect any review of electoral financing as part of a larger look at democratic reform, under an all-party committee.

The convention also established new policy for the party.

Among other things, the party voted in favour of: calling on government to support the opening of new rural development offices; urging government to develop a new energy efficiency program potentially incorporating the TakeCHARGE program of Newfoundland Power and Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro; and seeking a redesign of provincial symbols like the coat of arms, in consideration of colonial history and Reconciliation.

No presence for Joyce or Kirby

Former NDP MHA George Murphy made an appearance at the convention, not ruling out a run in 2019 under the Liberal banner.

Meanwhile, both MHA Eddie Joyce and MHA Dale Kirby did not participate, as expected. There was also no mention of them by name at the podium in most — if not all — conference sessions (The Telegram was not present for all sessions).

There was not so much as a face in the background of photos in the convention program.

Joyce and Kirby were removed from the Liberal caucus as investigations were launched into allegations of harassment and bullying, levelled against the members. At the time, Ball said the move did not mean Joyce and Kirby were out forever.

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But then, the convention was Kirby and Joyce-washed.   

“This is a Liberal convention that we see right here in Gander. And so right now- we’ll let the process unfold,” Ball said when asked about the issue.

“Keep in mind that we have done this- We didn’t sweep those issues under the rug. This party did not sweep those issues under the rug. We dealt with them proactively, we dealt with them swiftly. And right now, we’ll let the process unfold and the recommendations and the reports that will come out of that process, and then the decision will be made of what the future is for Mr. Kirby and Mr. Joyce.”

Both Joyce and Kirby remain members of the House of Assembly and district representatives.

As The Telegram reported, Joyce was feted for his 25 years in public service earlier this month, in a celebration including four Liberal MHAs.

He has more recently been out to visit with local iron workers who have been present at the new long-term care build in Corner Brook. The Ironworkers Local 764 members say they want locals to be getting get jobs at the site, before workers are brought in from outside of the province.

The worksite is not in Joyce’s district of Humber-Bay of Islands, but The Western Star reported many of the men offering the public objection to the status quo are from Joyce’s area.

When asked about Joyce’s attendance at the site, the premier said there was nothing unusual in Joyce standing up for his constituents, adding the long-term care and hospital construction projects in Corner Brook will serve the entire region.

ashley.fitzpatrick@thetelegram.com

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