Andrew Furey wins Liberal leadership race, will become 14th premier of N.L.
Furey calls on all MHAs to work together to address problems facing province
Orthopedic surgeon Andrew Furey is premier-designate of Newfoundland and Labrador, after winning the provincial Liberal leadership race on Monday evening.
Furey was the front-runner from the beginning, with the backing of outgoing Premier Dwight Ball's entire cabinet.
In voting results announced Monday evening in St. John's, Furey nearly doubled the only other candidate, longtime civil servant John Abbott, with 26,443 points to 13,557 points.
In his victory speech, Furey promised to be "frank and transparent," and called on all MHAs to work together to address the dire problems staring down the province.
"Together we can emerge from this crisis as a stronger, more caring, more passionate and more diverse Newfoundland and Labrador," he said.
Furey, who had never run in a political race before, said he hasn't given any thought to asking anyone to vacate their seat, but said he will run for the first seat that becomes available.
About 21,000 votes were cast in the leadership race, despite the fact that more than 34,000 people had registered. The final tally of votes cast is less than the 2013 Liberal leadership campaign, even though more people registered to vote in 2020.
Furey has never held office before, and doesn't have a seat in the provincial legislature.
Deep political connections
Furey, though, is politically connected. He is the son of Senate Speaker George Furey, a longtime Liberal organizer, and the nephew of former provincial cabinet minister Chuck Furey.
As a doctor, Furey founded Team Broken Earth to respond to Haiti's devastating earthquake in 2010. The organization has grown to include other medical missions.
The leadership race started in February with Premier Dwight Ball dropping a bombshell announcement during the evening news of his intention to resign.
On Monday, Ball was emotional as he gave a farewell speech to a small audience in his hometown of Deer Lake.
"I have missed a lot of moments, but I am ready for the next chapter, whatever that may be," Ball said, before turning his attention to the next leader.
"This job deserves your all. There will always be more work to do. You are never finished moving forward."
Ball's decision to resign came amid growing scandals within his caucus such as former Municipal Affairs and Environment Minister Perry Trimper's inadvertent "very racist" voicemail to Innu Nation staffer Dominic Rich, the hiring of Carla Foote — without competition — to a top job at The Rooms and subsequent investigation into then Tourism Minister Christopher Mitchelmore's involvement, the hiring of Gordon McIntosh to a $350,000 contract with Nalcor Energy — also without competition — and the saga of a harassment claim set forth by then cabinet minister Sherry Gambin-Walsh, which saw the removal of then-Liberal MHA Eddie Joyce and cabinet minister Dale Kirby.
Ball became premier when he led the Liberals to government in the 2015 general election. In 2019, Ball won a second term, albeit with a reduced caucus.
Furey will also inherit other problems, such as the province's troubling financial situation, which has worsened during the COVID-19 pandemic, and the ongoing push to bring the overbudget Muskrat Falls hydroelectric project online.
Over the course of the race, Abbott remained on the attack, twice raising concerns about how Furey formed his contact list — a list Abbott said was improperly obtained from Liberal party software before he was officially a candidate. Furey was cleared of those accusations.
The two men also went to battle over health care, with Furey accusing Abbott of not doing enough to fix the system while he held his senior position in government.
Before the final tally was announced, Abbott said he wanted an independent review of the voting process. He said many of the voters his team tried to contact had died before the leadership race began, or were wondering how they even ended up on the voting list at all.
Abbott said he isn't contesting the results, and doesn't think the problems he encountered would have changed the outcome.
Furey said there is still a place for Abbott in his government, and told reporters he reached out to Abbott earlier Monday to express his desire to work together in the coming months.
Abbott told reporters he intends to run for the Liberals in the next election, and said he is willing to meet with Furey about his future.
'Just takes the political will'
With the race now over, there will be a transition phase, during which Furey will be referred to as the premier-designate.
Once Furey is sworn in, Furey will become the 14th premier of Newfoundland and Labrador.
He said the first meeting he wants is with Department of Finance officials to address the province's fiscal woes. He said he wants to get a better understanding of the province's $2.1-billion deficit — the second-worst in the province's history, only just behind the $2.2-billion deficit of 2015-16.
In his speech, Furey said it is time to overcome the "boom and bust" economic trends the province has been stuck in for decades. He said growing and diversifying the economy will be a top priority.
"We can do it. It just takes the political will," Furey said.
Calling on Ottawa will also be at the top of his list. Furey said he doesn't believe in the word "bailout," since Ottawa has a fiscal responsibility to Newfoundland and Labrador.