Renewal tour launched as Liberals rebuild

The Liberal party will tour town halls across the province this spring, as it aims to persuade voters it is a government in waiting.

Dean MacDonald breaks party ranks to defend Nalcor over Lower Churchill

Liberal Leader Dwight Ball and president Judy Morrow launched a new renewal process on Wednesday. (CBC )

Newfoundland and Labrador's Liberal party launched what it calls a renewal process on Wednesday, even though one of the project's leaders has broken party ranks over the sensitive Muskrat Falls issue.

The "renewal tour" will take Liberals to town halls across the province, as the party — which was narrowly able to hang on to Official Opposition status after October's election — prepares new policies to persuade voters they are a government in waiting.

Dean MacDonald says the fact he defends Nalcor and its Muskrat Falls proposal shows there is open debate within the Liberal party. (CBC )

"We will need to rebuild the party from the ground up," Liberal Leader Dwight Ball said at a ceremony at a St. John's hotel.

"One key way to do this is by always maintaining a connection between our volunteers and our supporters, as they are the lifeblood of a party."

The tour will begin in early May.

The renewal committee is being co-chaired by businessman Dean MacDonald, former MP Siobhan Coady and former Liberal leader Kevin Aylward.

On the eve of the launch, though, MacDonald split with the current Liberal position over the Muskrat Falls megaproject, and defended how Crown energy corporation Nalcor has presented its proposal to the Public Utilities Board.

'Maybe some mud has been slung'

The PUB this week chided Nalcor for not providing enough information for it to make a decision on whether Muskrat Falls was the least-cost energy option available for island consumers.

"Maybe some mud has been slung ... but we have the best experts in the country, maybe in North America, working on our behalf," MacDonald, a former chair of Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro, told CBC News.

Nalcor and the Newfoundland and Labrador government have been constant targets of Liberal critics, who have insisted that the Muskrat Falls proposal will be ruinous for the province.

MacDonald, who said the PUB review process was flawed, defended Nalcor's performance and team.

"That company, year over year, for the last five years — all its performance metrics have improved," he said. "The balance sheet has improved. They attract the talent from around the world ... they are the experts."

MacDonald described Muskrat Falls as the "staging ground for so many things."

After Wednesday's launch, MacDonald said his views did not mean there was a permanent rift.

"We're a very open party. I think it's very healthy," he told reporters.

"I commend Dwight for the questions he's asking on the project … I think Dwight and his team have done a great job of asking tough questions."