Full speed ahead for N.L.’s Liberal minority after election squeaker

Full speed ahead for N.L.'s Liberal minority after election squeaker

ST. JOHN’S, N.L. — Newfoundland and Labrador’s premier sounded a contrite and co-operative tone Friday, amid all signs that his Liberal government will survive despite being reduced to a minority in Thursday’s election.

The NDP and the two Independent members indicated no appetite for bringing down Premier Dwight Ball’s Liberals, who held on to 20 of the legislature’s 40 seats — one shy of a majority.

Ches Crosbie’s Tories won 15 seats, the New Democrats took three, and Independents won two.

Crosbie, who suggested late Thursday he planned to try to topple the government, sounded a different tone on Friday, while politicians outside the red and blue camps told The Canadian Press they would rather avoid another imminent election.

In an interview Friday afternoon, Ball said he’s heard the voters “loud and clear” on the desire for a more collaborative House of Assembly.

He didn’t say what in particular he would do differently this time around, but said he’s looking forward to the challenge of leading a more collaborative government.

“The message that I took from them as leader of the political party and premier of this province was ‘Premier, I want to see you work more closely with other parties, with all members of the House of Assembly,'” Ball said by phone on Friday. 

“I’ve accepted that message and I humbly thank them for the direction that they’ve given to me, and that’s exactly what I’m going to do.”

No meeting or discussions had taken place by Friday afternoon, but Ball said he reached out to several newly elected members and he’s open to discussions over the long weekend.

In an interview, NDP Leader Alison Coffin said another election within the next year would be “destructive” and unnecessarily slow the province’s economy.

“At this point I don’t think that we need to rush for any more upheaval. I think we need to do a fair bit of work,” she said. “Maybe the election will happen sooner but not necessarily in a year.”

Crosbie posted a statement on Twitter on Friday afternoon apologizing for not congratulating Ball in his election night remarks and suggested he would be taking the premier to task on his promises.

“I congratulate Premier Ball on his 20 seat plurality, which entitles him to meet the House of Assembly and seek the confidence of the House,” Crosbie said.

“I look forward to working with him to advance the interests of Newfoundland and Labrador, including his commitment to the vital interest of attaining budgetary balance and recovery by 2022-23.”

That’s a different tone from his speech on Thursday, when Crosbie said he would not concede, and predicted Ball’s government would not survive the year.

Crosbie described the results Thursday as “a situation of constitutional instability” and said he would be reaching out to Independent and NDP members in the coming days.

“They will have to struggle for the next months and years to hang on to power,” he said of the Liberals on election night.

Crosbie postponed a scheduled media appearance Friday until next week.

Speculation has also focused on the two elected Independents, Eddie Joyce and Paul Lane, both former Liberals.

Lane, who also previously sat as a Tory, said in an interview Friday that he was asked to join all the province’s political parties before the election and his answer is still a firm no.

He said he’s willing to work with the Liberals but plans to remain unaffiliated so he can hold the government to account.

Lane said he was disappointed in Crosbie’s call to topple the government, saying another election goes against the needs and wishes of the people who are seeking solutions to more serious problems.

“I’m willing to collaborate, I don’t want to bring down the government … the people of Newfoundland and Labrador, they don’t want another election. They want us to actually act like intelligent adults, roll up our sleeves and work together,” Lane said.

“This partisan foolishness has got to stop.”   

Lane said he’s not interested in being Speaker of the House because it would give the Liberals a majority, and he can’t hold government accountable from the Speaker’s chair.

Eddie Joyce, who was ejected from the Liberal party and cabinet last year over bullying allegations, said he’d be willing to work with any elected member, but would not be joining any party.

Joyce said he’s not interesting in joining Crosbie’s fight to topple the government, after Crosbie made comments last year that Joyce had “issues” and wouldn’t be a good fit for the PC party. 

“He’s an opportunist, that’s all,” Joyce said. “I’m telling you right now, Ches Crosbie, I will not be working with you to topple the government.”

Perhaps the biggest victors were Coffin and the NDP, who had no incumbents in the race and candidates in just 14 ridings but rallied to claim three seats, including one for Coffin, a political rookie.

Coffin said Friday she is open to working together with the Liberals in areas of common ground.

“If (a) minority government really is interested in true debate and actually solving the problems that exist instead of putting Band-Aids over them, and they’re willing to talk, then I think we have the real potential for getting a lot of work done here,” she said.

“Having the balance of power, that really puts New Democrats in a very, very good position and I think that will force us into collaboration a little bit more,” she said. 

Ball said that while minority governments are unusual in Newfoundland and Labrador, he plans to learn from other jurisdictions in the region that have recently elected them.

Ball said he’s used to collaborating and welcomes the debates to come in the legislature.

But Ball said there’s no reason to change the provincial budget, which was tabled one day before the writ dropped, because it was presented to voters during the campaign and the government was re-elected.

The premier said everything comes down to the confidence vote around the budget.

“Right now the last thing people in our province would want to see is another election coming right on the heels of this one,” he said.

Holly McKenzie-Sutter, The Canadian Press


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