On Monday night, Andrew Furey, a doctor, was announced the winner of the provincial Liberal party leadership. He is stepping into the job as the financially troubled province reels from the impacts of the pandemic, and falling oil prices taking office for the first time as Newfoundland and Labrador premier. The 45-year-old surgeon from a political family and charity founder defeated John Abbott in the race to replace Premier Dwight Ball. In his victory speech, Furey asked the province’s inhabitants to unite through the challenging times ahead.
He also said his passion and strength are needed now more than ever before in history. The son of Senate Speaker George Furey warned of unspecified “tough decisions” that will have to be made and said overcoming the province’s economic crisis is not a short-term proposition. Furey also indicated that the path would not be accessible if one makes a mistake and assured that things would be done differently. He added that the status quo no longer works, and people should turn away from that well-worn path of boom and bust and back again.
Since it was only 50 people who were allowed at the convention because of COVID-19 health restrictions, the celebration at the St. John’s Convention Centre was subdued. All candidates were permitted to come with five guests, and Ball gave statements from an occasion at Deer Lake on the island’s west coast, broadcast to the large, sporadically full convention hall over video. There were about a dozen people seated, when the two candidates, both political novices, sat with their families in the large room. Before Furey gave remarks, they exchanged an elbow bump, commenting on the unusual situation of celebrating in a nearly empty room.
Furey spoke to the stark fiscal situation he’s set to inherit as Newfoundland and Labrador’s 14th premier. Last month, the province reported a $2.1-billion deficit in a fiscal update and Furey called the figure “overwhelming.” However, jurisdictions around the world that are spending heavily to deal with the pandemic would experience tough economic times in the province’s past. Also, because of cost overruns from the over-budget Muskrat Falls dam and an offshore oil and gas industry struggling to attract exploration activity, Furey will have to contend with electricity rates that are expected to rise. Furey hopes to negotiate with Ottawa about financial support for the province.
The election continued in June, following the lifting of some restrictions on gatherings in the province. A provincial election will be needed in a year time during the leadership campaign once Furey is sworn in. On Monday, Furey said he plans to take the first seat vacant as he was not planning to call a general election before the end of 2020. Meanwhile, the Progressive Conservatives will hold a public meeting in October in apparent preparation as they have opened candidate nominations. Until the next election, Ball will stay on as the representative for his Humber-Gros Morne district.
In a speech from Deer Lake, Ball thanked his colleagues, staff and the public. On the other hand, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the premiers of Quebec, Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia paid tributes for Ball. In a vote which was done online and by telephone, party officials said more than 21,000 Liberal members and supporters cast ballots. Furey nearly doubled Abbott’s score under the point system used by the party according to districts won. Abbott called for an independent audit of the voting process before the result was even announced.