Nfld. & Labrador

New N.L. premier, new finance minister: Andrew Furey takes office and shuffles cabinet

Andrew Furey has been sworn in as the 14th premier of Newfoundland and Labrador, at a time when the province faces one of its worst fiscal challenges with a near-record deficit of $2.1 billion this year.

Furey vows transparency, accountability at swearing-in ceremony

Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Andrew Furey makes his first speech on the job, shortly after taking the oath of office on Wednesday. (Paul Daly/The Canadian Press)

Andrew Furey has been sworn in as the 14th premier of Newfoundland and Labrador, at a time when the province faces one of its worst fiscal challenges with a near-record deficit of $2.1 billion this year caused largely by plummeting oil prices and the pandemic.

Following a short swearing-in ceremony in St. John's on Wednesday morning, Furey unveiled his cabinet, making major ministerial changes for a fresh start to tackle the formidable financial problems facing the province.

The 15-minute swearing-in ceremony outside Government House at 10 a.m. NT marked the transition of power. Furey took an oath before a small crowd, including his family, supporters and Lt.-Gov. Judy Foote.

At 1 p.m., also at Government House, Furey named his cabinet ministers, most notably appointing Siobhan Coady, the member of the House of Assembly for St. John's West, his deputy premier and finance minister. Coady will now be in charge of bringing in the next provincial budget, promised in September after being put off for months due to the pandemic.

Tom Osborne, previously the finance minister, was named education minister, a day after predecessor Brian Warr defended the English school district's back-to-school plan, which cut 6,000 children from bus routes and made no changes to class sizes.

In distributing a few new titles Wednesday, Furey signalled that his government's priorities will be attracting newcomers, building a burgeoning tech sector and building relationships with Indigenous communities.

Gerry Byrne was named immigration, skills and labour minister, while Andrew Parsons is the new industry, technology and energy minister. Lisa Dempster is the new minister of Indigenous affairs and reconciliation and is taking on the status of women and Labrador affairs portfolios. Steve Croker will take over as justice minister, replacing Andrew Parsons.

Notably absent among the ministers was Christopher Mitchelmore, who came under fire during his time in former premier Dwight Ball's cabinet for his involvement in a controversial hiring of Carla Foote at the provincial cultural institution The Rooms, thereby triggering an investigation that resulted in the Mitchelmore Report. In a Facebook post released at the same time as the cabinet shuffle, Mitchelmore said he was not intending to seek re-election and was looking "to start a family outside of public life."

One of only two people who didn't swap portfolios was John Haggie, who remains health minister and has been navigating the pandemic to largely positive reviews. 

There are three new faces in cabinet as well: Derek Bennett becomes the minister of environment, climate change and municipalities; Elvis Loveless was named minister of fisheries, forestry and agriculture; and Sarah Stoodley is now in charge of digital government and Service NL.

In total, Furey has 13 ministers in his cabinet.

'No rhetoric' in face of $2B deficit

While Furey's similar speeches at both of Wednesday's events were marked with optimism, an undercurrent of the dire situation facing Newfoundland and Labrador did not go unmentioned.

In ushering in Furey, Lt.-Gov. Foote said, "Leaders are expected to lead, despite the circumstances. Some come into office under better circumstances than others."

Furey has a daunting challenge ahead of him, as the province expects to hit a deficit of $2.1 billion this year. He has previously said in order to pull out of fiscal turmoil driven by tumultuous oil prices and the pandemic, the federal government will need to step in.

Furey and his wife, Allison Furey, exit Government House on Wednesday morning, for the swearing-in ceremony, which was held outdoors to accommodate public health regulations. (Paul Daly/The Canadian Press)

In his speech Wednesday morning, Furey acknowledged that some have likened his role to being captain of the Titanic after it hit the iceberg, but he urged optimism and called for collaboration in the days ahead.

 "I call upon the brightest minds of the province to take a seat at the table: help us redefine ourselves," he said.

Both Foote and Furey highlighted the importance of the emerging tech sector, and Furey vowed it was time to end the boom-and-bust economic roller-coaster of the past.

He also vowed transparency and accountability between the public and politicians.

"You will know exactly what the hard decisions are, and how they will impact our province, and why we are making them," he said.

"No rhetoric, just reality."

Furey was elected the leader of the Liberal party, and thereby became premier-designate, on Aug. 3, after a protracted leadership race against John Abbott.

The election was triggered when Ball — in the wake of several scandals — abruptly resigned as premier in February. The leadership race began shortly thereafter but stalled due to the pandemic and started again in May. Furey, a political newcomer himself but with familial connections — his father was Senate Speaker and his uncle, an MHA — was widely seen as the front-runner throughout the race.

WATC | Furey's swearing-in ceremony:

A fractured party

Furey may also need to spend time uniting his own ranks.

He had widespread support within the Liberal caucus prior to his win, with every one of Ball's cabinet ministers endorsing his run. But Humber-Bay of Islands Independent MHA Eddie Joyce — a former Liberal whom Ball removed from the party in 2018 — said the party Furey inherits is a splintered one.

"There's a lot of fraction in the Liberal caucus. There was a lot of leaking in the Liberal caucus," said Joyce on Wednesday morning. "Andrew Furey needs to show that he is the premier. There's a new captain on the ship, and we're going to run this place differently, and I think people will jump on board with him."

Joyce called Ball's decision to leave a response to the "revolt" within his own caucus, and he advised the new premier to be frank with the public about the staggering problems facing the province.

"My advice to the premier is be honest, be upfront with the people and reach out to work with everybody," Joyce told CBC Radio's Newfoundland Morning.

Furey takes the oath to become the 14th premier of Newfoundland and Labrador on Wednesday. (Peter Cowan/CBC)

While the relationship between Ball and Joyce was fraught, to say the least, Joyce said Furey has already reached out to him for a cordial, if brief, phone chat. As Furey leads a minority government, he may need Joyce's support to help pass legislation and stay afloat.

In his swearing-in speech, Furey acknowledged there is work to be done.

"I know there are those whose faith in our political institutions has been rocked. I can't change the past," he said.

Furey, an orthopedic surgeon, had never run for public office before and does not have a seat in the House of Assembly. He has said he'll run as soon as possible, and Ball has mused about stepping aside as MHA in Humber-Gros Morne to trigger a byelection and give Furey an opportunity.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from Newfoundland Morning


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