Premier Danny Williams and his colleagues are making political hay from reports of a rift forming in the Liberal party over new leader Jim Bennett.
Rumours have been flying that Liberals have been unhappy with the performance of Bennett, who was acclaimed this winter as party leader when no other candidate emerged to contest the leadership.
Premier Danny Williams could not resist making a dig Monday during debate in the house of assembly.
During question period, Williams said he would respond to "the Opposition House leader [Gerry Reid], not the leader of the party, not Mr. Bennett, who they are trying to stab in the back."
Williams and Deputy Premier Tom Rideout made a series of cracks against the Liberals during the session, and heckled them over Bennett's leadership.
"Where's Jim? I guess they're afraid somebody might see his back," Rideout said while Liberals were preparing their questions.
Bennett, a west coast lawyer who has no immediate plans to seek a seat in the legislature, viewed the debate from the public gallery, but he did not speak with reporters.
Bennett drew heat from Reid last week because of his suggestion that the provincial government's minimum wage be split, with one wage paid to teenagers and another paid to adults.
In an interview last Friday, though, Bennett said the fuss has had no impact on the party's rank and file.
"I've been in a variety of places in the province – practically the whole province outside of St. John's – and I'm finding that I'm getting extremely positive feedback," Bennett said at the time.
Review sought for annual conventions
Kevin Hussey, the vice-president of the Newfoundland and Labrador Liberal party, said he will be seeking an amendment to the party's constitution that will allow delegates a vote on their leader at every convention.
"If Jim Bennett decides to take some wrong roads and not do Liberal policies and Liberal philosophies, he could destroy the Liberal party pretty fast," said Hussey.
Hussey emphasized that he is not directly criticizing Bennett's decisions. He said he wants only to fix party policy.
Party president Tom Lush said Tuesday he would make a statement in a few days to respond to "recent events" within the party.
"Because of the necessity to allow and encourage dialogue and discussion among all participants involved I do not want to comment for another few days," Lush said in a statement.
John Murphy, a retired political reporter who covered the legislature for three decades, said the Bennett case demonstrates what can happen after an uncontested leadership.
"When you have an election for an opposition leader, you can vet the person. You can get to know what they're all about," Murphy said.
"He simply applied for it. Nobody else ponied up and he got the job. Well, now he's saying some things that apparently some people didn't like."
The Liberals will be holding their annual meeting in June.