5 takeaways from N.L. party leaders' debate

The province's three party leaders squared off in a televised debate at the House of Assembly Monday night and came away relative intact following an hour of verbal jousting.

Leaders field 12 questions; come away confident that they left an impression

The leaders of Newfoundland and Labrador's three political parties, Paul Davis, Earle McCurdy and Dwight Ball, engaged in a spirited debate Monday night that was televised by NTV. (Terry Roberts/CBC)

The province's three party leaders squared off in a televised debate at the House of Assembly Monday night and came away relative intact following an hour of verbal jousting.

The NTV leaders' debate featured 12 questions for Liberal Leader Dwight Ball, PC Leader Paul Davis and Earle McCurdy, leader of the provincial New Democrats.

When the dust settled, all three said they were pleased with their performance, with only Davis going so far as to say he felt he won the contest.

"I think I did," Davis told reporters afterwards.

When asked the same question, Ball said he was pleased with his performance, adding that he takes nothing for granted, despite his lofty position in the polls.

McCurdy, meanwhile, said the public will decide the victor and that will happen on Nov. 30.

The three leaders have debated on several occasions in recent weeks, but Monday's event was the first province-wide contest.

There was no clear winner, with each leader proving to be well-prepared, poised and ready to spar when the moment called for it.

Here are five takeaways from the debate:

1. Paul Davis not ready to back away from public-private partnerships

One of the first questions of the evening tackled the contentious plan by the PCs to enter into public-private partnership for the creation of 360 new long-term care beds.

Davis said he remains "absolutely committed" to the plan, despite vehement opposition from public sector unions.

Davis said it has worked in other provinces and many lessons have been learned.

"This is not about compromising quality," he said, adding that these beds will relieve pressure on the health system and the 15 to 20 per cent of acute care beds that are occupied by patients in need of long-term care.

McCurdy launched a zinger in response, saying "We shouldn't be entrusting the care of our elderly loved ones to Humber Valley Paving and long-term care," a reference to the scandal involving paving contracts in Labrador.

McCurdy predicted that a multi-national corporation will provide the service, with decisions being made elsewhere about everything from dietary needs to the number of baths per week.

"The driving motivation will be to maximize profits," McCurdy stated.

2. Dwight Ball, if elected premier, will battle his Liberal cousins in Ottawa, if necessary.

With the federal Liberals sweeping to victory last month, including all seven ridings in Newfoundland and Labrador, some have wondered if Dwight Ball will fight hard enough for the province if a dispute arises.

Ball tried to lay those concerns to rest.

"I will stand up for the people that elected me, make no doubt about it," Ball said. 

However, he added that the new prime minister, Justin Trudeau, understands this province.

"It's much better to walk into a room where you have friends," he said.

McCurdy has raised concerns about a Liberal juggernaut at the federal and provincial level and believes the province will be the loser.

"We've never gotten anything out of Ottawa that we didn't stand up and fight for," said McCurdy. "We need a government in this province that will stand up to Ottawa; not stand up for Ottawa."

3. Paul Davis compares Muskrat Falls to the Hoover Dam.

The debate started with a question about the Muskrat Falls hydroelectric project and how it will impact electricity bills for Newfoundlanders and Labradorians.

McCurdy said the project will have "devastating consequences" on rate payers, and suggested many people will not be able to heat their homes.

He said the decision to sanction the project was done without any serious debate and that alternatives, including conservation, were not considered.

"You've bought a big dinner and passed the tab to the people of the province," said McCurdy.

Davis said Muskrat Falls will last for a century and compared it to the Hoover Dam in the United States, which began producing power in 1936.

He promised that "power rates will remain the lowest under Muskrat Falls," and said revenues from the sale of electricity to other jurisdictions will be used to ensure that.

4. Lots of talk about the Waterford Hospital. But will it be replaced?

The Liberals have made a commitment to replace the Waterford Hospital in St. John's as part of a strategy to improve mental health services, but Davis believes Ball and his party are overstretching the province's ability to pay for such an investment.

Davis said improving services is more than just bricks and mortar.

He said there is a need to replace the hospital, along with a new penitentiary, court house and hospital in Corner Brook, but added "we can't afford to build all of these facilities under today's revenues."

Ball said previous PC governments took in $25 billion in oil revenues, yet did not see fit to replace the Waterford, which was opened in 1855.

Ball added that the PCs have "spent money on health care, but have not improved outcomes."

5. Will Liberal promise to cancel proposed increase in HST hurt the province? 

Dwight Ball would not engage with Davis on the Liberal promise to cancel a proposal by the governing PCs to increase the HST by two percentage points in January, only to say he is "committed" to the promise.

Davis accused Ball of making "billions of dollars of promises" that he cannot keep and said an increase in the HST "is the fairest way for taxation in a society like ours."

Ball diverted by asking Davis why he has distanced himself from a sustainability plan announced several years ago.

Davis pointed to the "significant impacts" of the loss of oil revenues.