Dwight Ball wins Liberal leadership
Dwight Ball, the MHA for Humber Valley, is the new leader of the Liberal Party of Newfoundland and Labrador following a three-ballot vote.
"We are ready to govern," Ball, who had been interim leader for a year and a half, told delegates at a convention in St. John's.
Ball said he intends to capitalize on what he called "a thirst for change" in government. Recent opinion polls have put the Liberals on top for the first time in more than a decade.
He also said a Liberal government's first order of business will be to repeal Bill 29, a controversial law that curtailed how much information the government is obliged to release to the public.
"The people of Newfoundland and Labrador are tired of being told what to think, they're tired of being told that they don't have a right to know what's going on inside their own government. That's why, my friends, my first order of business for the new Liberal government will be to repeal Bill 29," he said.
"This is the first step in ending the arrogance and restoring accountability. We will repeal Bill 29 and clean the dust of secrecy from government and all its institutions, including Nalcor Energy."
Ball took 2,832.29 of 4,800 possible points in the third and final round of a preferential-voting system that the Liberals used for the first time.
Ball beat out second-round challengers Paul Antle, who garnered 1,397.86 points, and Cathy Bennett, who was dropped for the third round with 1,144.99 points.
Antle and Bennett are both business people who say they will run in the next election, scheduled for October 2015.
A longtime party organizer, Antle said he had wanted to pull enough support to topple Ball. However, he said he could not catch up, despite trying every tactic his team could think of.
"I still intend to run in 2015, so I'll have to speak to the new leader about when and where we focus our attention on making that happen."
Antle said he is keen now to turn his attention on helping the party eradicate a crushing debt that has hobbled the party's ability to compete in the past two elections.
"The party has a responsibility to reduce its debt. It's over a million dollars now [so] we'll start working on that," he said.
"Dwight, I'm sure, will put a plan in place very quickly to start retiring our debt and building a war chest for the next election. It's very important that we do that, and I will be there to help."
Bennett said that she was proud of her results and her team, and is looking forward to her future with the Liberal party and running against Premier Kathy Dunderdale in Virginia Waters in 2015.
According to Bennett, people in the party, along with the rest of the province, are sending a clear message that they are looking for something different.
"They sent the party a strong message that they want the Liberal party to be representative of what the entire province feels is important, and I think change is on the agenda not only for the government," she said.
"But I think change is one of the reasons the Liberal party has been surging, and I think that change is going to continue."
Bennett said during her campaign for leadership that she would reduce the party's debt within six months, and said that even though she didn't win the leadership, she will still be helping the party to do just that.
Candidates Jim Bennett and Danny Dumaresque were both dropped from the ballot after the first round, each earning less than five per cent of the vote.
The party said 23,873 people cast votes in the race, with 62.8 per cent of eligible voters casting ballots and exceeding party expectation.
Voting started by phone and online on Nov. 8 and concluded at noon on Sunday.
Ball, who was interim leader from January 2012 through July 2013, said he took that role seriously, and that he began working last year on a party rebuilding process that he would like to continue.
"I can assure you that the Liberal party will be more united than ever," said Ball.
Dumaresque said he wasn't expecting the amount of spending some of the other candidates put into their campaigns.
"I was a little surprised that there was as much spending as there was, but I was thankful of the mainstream media that I was able to get," said Dumaresque, adding he ran a "frugal" campaign himself.
Jim Bennett said the momentum behind the Liberal party as a whole is significant.
"Regardless of the outcome [of the leadership race], it's been a big win for the party, and I think a big win overall," he said.