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What the Newfoundland and Labrador Liberals were talking about in Gander Friday

Minister of Transportation and Works Steve Crocker (left), Education Minister Al Hawkins (right) and Liberal convention delegate Jackie Watkins chat Friday in the Quality Hotel and Suites in Gander at the start of the Liberal general meeting and conference.
Minister of Transportation and Works Steve Crocker (left), Education Minister Al Hawkins (right) and Liberal convention delegate Jackie Watkins chat Friday in the Quality Hotel and Suites in Gander at the start of the Liberal general meeting and conference. - Ashley Fitzpatrick

Party faithful, new voices looking to next political chapter

The 2018 Newfoundland and Labrador Liberal Party general meeting and convention kicked off Friday in Gander, with “Team Dwight 2019” buttons, the theme of “Future Focused” and little mention in the halls of former cabinet ministers Dale Kirby and Eddie Joyce — both expelled from caucus earlier this year, and still in political limbo.

There was a smattering of conference sessions in the afternoon, but many delegates were arriving into the night, for an official kickoff session of cheers and speeches. The bulk of party business, including policy debate, a treasurer’s report and voting is set for Saturday.

One of the early sessions at the event was a meeting for the Liberals’ women’s commission, offering a panel of members of the House of Assembly — Pam Parsons, Siobhan Coady, Cathy Bennett, Sherry Gambin-Walsh and Betty Parsley — all taking questions and offering advice to would-be future candidates.

The session included speeches from two women hoping to be named Saturday as the next president of the Liberals’ women’s commission. It’s a behind-the-scenes role, but one they both said offers an opportunity to meaningfully contribute to the provincial political system.

Margot Pitcher spends her days at work as executive assistant to Education Minister Al Hawkins, trying to help people where she can. But she said she wants to find ways to volunteer more time.

She told The Telegram the recent spotlight on harassment and bullying in provincial politics, from the cases of Joyce and Kirby, have made her more interested in the system. The public discussions around harassment and bullying show the province needs more women in politics, she said. That’s women being elected to the House of Assembly and in internal, party roles.

And sometimes getting elected comes down to what you know, not who you know, she said.

“Lots of people don’t even know there’s a district association (in their area) and where you can start to hone that (political) interest,” she said, while making her pitch to convention delegates for the party role.

Selena Murphy also has her hat in the ring to lead the women’s commission.

“I believe in a strong, fair voice for women, in our party and in politics,” she said.

Murphy told The Telegram she has been inspired by her three daughters. “I want to make life better for them in a political world and in the real world,” she said.

Murphy said it is possible for even the busiest people to participate in provincial politics in a meaningful way and wants to encourage participation.

“You can do anything that you set your mind to do,” she said.

Both women said they’d stick with the party regardless of the outcome in their own race this weekend. And they are an example of the many Liberals Premier Dwight Ball and party president John Allan are promising will be energized coming out of the event.

About 500 delegates — roughly 400 being delegates with voting privileges — are expected.

Heading into the convention, Ball refused to entertain the idea of any non-confidence vote against him on Saturday. A change would only be triggered with a vote of more than 50 per cent in favour of a leadership contest.

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