Cathy Bennett has officially kicked off her campaign to lead the provincial Liberals, batting aside questions about past ties to the Tories and stressing her business resume.

"I have the fire in my belly to work with a team that will move our province forward," Bennett said in a speech kicking off her candidacy Wednesday.

Bennett said she will strive to find a balance between economic prosperity and social justice, making decisions that aren’t too rigid or too reckless.

"I’m committed to striking a balance of fiscal prudence with social sensitivity. That is what I believe in. That is why I’m Liberal."

She said the government must manage its expenses and "commit to being best in class."

Bennett referenced her three decades in business, and noted that she has been asked to run in elections by all three parties.

She reiterated her support for Muskrat Falls, saying the rationale for the $7.7-billion hydro megaproject is sound.

"I believe the business case works," she said.

The Liberals have been critical of the plan. But Bennett said the focus must now be on managing the project properly, on time and on budget.

About 100 people turned out for Bennett’s campaign launch at a St. John’s hotel.

Stressed Liberal bona fides

Bennett has supported Tory causes in recent years, accepting an appointment to the board of Nalcor Energy and donating to the party.

Since 2004, Bennett and her companies have made nine political donations to the Progressive Conservatives for a total of $6,400. In that same time frame, she has made just two donations to the Liberals totalling just $500.

Asked by reporters about that apparent contradiction, she said: "The full story hasn’t been told. I’ve been a big supporter of friends of mine who have been Liberals."

'I think democracy requires that we as citizens give of our time, talent and treasure, and I have given in the past my treasure. And now I’m going to give my time.' —Cathy Bennett

Bennett said she helped fundraise for Liberal Siobhan Coady when Coady campaigned for a seat in Parliament in 2008.

"I think democracy requires that we as citizens give of our time, talent and treasure, and I have given in the past my treasure," Bennett said. "And now I’m going to give my time."

Last week, former Liberal MHA, MP and cabinet minister John Efford questioned her party bona fides.

But Bennett said she has received only welcoming feedback from Liberals.

She becomes the fourth candidate in the race, joining St. Barbe MHA Jim Bennett, interim leader Dwight Ball and one-time MHA and party president Danny Dumaresque.

The deadline for nominations is Friday.

Newfoundland and Labrador Liberals will pick a new leader in November.