Lawyer Jim Bennett has been acclaimed as the next leader of the Newfoundland and Labrador Liberal party, bringing an end to a leadership campaign that never really was.

By the time nominations closed early Monday evening, Bennett was the only candidate to have filed papers with the party office.

The week leading up to the deadline was notable most for candidates who decided they did not want to take on the party's reins – and face Premier Danny Williams in an election expected in fall 2007.

Bennett, who is based in the west coast community of Daniel's Harbour, takes over as leader immediately.

He said he has already starting preparations for the next provincial election expected in 2007.

"It's not a matter of beating this government. It's a matter of providing a clear alternative," said Bennett.

"People would have to wonder where was Stephen Harper was a year and a half ago compared to today. Nobody would have thought he would have been swearing in a cabinet today," he said.


I think we might find ourselves in exactly the same situation 600 days from now if we do our homework and don't waste a single day."

Yvonne Jones, the MHA for Cartright-L'Anse au Clair, bowed out a challenge for the leadership earlier Monday.

"I think it is in the best interest of the party to focus their energies collectively on paying down the debt that exists there right now, and getting the party ready for the next election," Jones said.

Jones followed in the steps of interim party leader Gerry Reid, fellow MHAs Anna Thistle and Kelvin Parsons and defeated federal candidates Siobhan Coady and Paul Antle, who all removed their names from potential leadership bids.

The party's debt will require Bennett's attention. The Liberals owe about $600,000, largely because of expenses from the 2003 provincial election.

Tom Lush, the president of the Newfoundland and Labrador Liberal party, said there is now no longer a need for a convention that had been scheduled for June – which in itself will alleviate some financial pressures.

"There are only so many givers out there," Lush said.

Bennett is keen to work on fundraising, and intends to tap into some mainland connections.

His wife, Sandra Pupatello, is the minister of community and social services in Dalton McGuinty's Ontario government.

Bennett says that will open some doors, and some wallets.

"The fact that she is a high-profile person and the fact that I've lived in Ontario for a number of years before moving home and met a large number of people [help]," he said.

"The opportunity to raise money probably would be better for me than for somebody who doesn't have similar Ontario contacts."

Instead of a leadership convention, the Liberals will now hold a policy conference for the fall.

After that, Bennett and the Liberal caucus will have about a year to build a war chest for the next election.