John Abbott, Pam Parsons among Furey's additions to cabinet
Reveal comes as PCs call for gender parity in cabinet
Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Andrew Furey tapped three newcomers and promoted a backbencher as he on Thursday unveiled his first cabinet since forming a majority in a prolonged election.
Furey was sworn in as premier of Newfoundland and Labrador in a ceremony at Government House in St. John's on Thursday morning, shortly before cabinet appointments were announced.
It's the second time in eight months Furey has been sworn in, following his swearing-in after he won the Liberal leadership race on Aug. 3 against now St. John's East-Quidi Vidi MHA John Abbott.
"The journey has been challenging, but the highs have been very high with great views, and that's what we need to hold on to as we move forward and tackle the challenges ahead," Furey said Thursday.
"The problems we are about to tackle are not Liberal problems. They're not Conservative problems. They're not NDP problems or Green problems. They are the problems of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians."
Furey said disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic is also an opportunity to "reset, reimagine and reinvent who we want to be." He said keeping the fundamental principles of making the right decisions for the province will keep the province in "good stead" moving forward.
Following his own swearing-in, Furey's new cabinet was revealed:
- Siobhan Coady as finance minister and deputy premier.
- Tom Osborne as education minister.
- Andrew Parsons as industry, energy and technology minister.
- Steve Crocker as tourism, culture, arts and recreation minister and government House leader.
- Gerry Byrne as minister of immigration, population growth and skills.
- John Haggie as health minister.
- Lisa Dempster as minister of Indigenous affairs, Labrador affairs and deputy government House leader.
- Bernard Davis as minister of environment, labour and Workplace NL.
- Derrick Bragg as minister of fisheries, forestry and agriculture.
- Elvis Loveless as minister of transportation and infrastructure, and minister responsible for the public procurement agency.
- Sarah Stoodley as minister of digital government, Service NL, minister responsible for francophone affairs and minister responsible for the office of the chief information officer.
- Pam Parsons as minister responsible for women and gender equality.
- John Abbott as children, seniors and social development minister, minister responsible for the status of persons with disabilities, minister responsible for the community sector and minister responsible for Newfoundland and Labrador Housing Corporation.
- John Hogan as attorney general and justice minister.
- Krista Lynn Howell as minister of municipal and provincial affairs.
Crocker, Davis, Bragg and Loveless, ministers in the previous cabinet, are moving into new portfolios, while Parsons, and newly elected MHAs Abbott, Hogan and Howell have been added. Brian Warr and Derek Bennett are out.
Abbott and Hogan unseated NDP Leader Alison Coffin and former PC leader Ches Crosbie in the general election, though Coffin and the NDP have filed for a recount after losing by only 53 votes.
Watch the full cabinet ceremony:
"After the election I had some people suggest that might be where I ended up. But, of course, I would have done anything the premier asked me to do, if it was cabinet or something else," newly minted Justice Minister John Hogan told reporters shortly after the ceremony.
"I'm just excited to be part of the premier's team."
Hogan said his first task will be to look at the province's Elections Act, with a focus on modernizing it.
"The world has changed.… We need to look at how we do things in the future to make sure any issues that come up in elections, for pandemics, [there are] other ways to vote," he said.
Abbott said he is excited about his appointment, but also surprised, since he and Furey battled it out for the party leadership less than a year ago.
Abbott said he wouldn't comment on the recount for his district with the matter before the court. He added he hasn't had a discussion with Furey about what happens the results of the vote in his district are overturned, but he has some immediate priorities for the portfolio.
"There's several key platform issues that I'm going to have to tackle. Probably the reduction strategy stands out, working with persons with disabilities, obviously food insecurity, housing insecurity," Abbott said.
"There's a wealth of issues to deal with."
Tackling the future
Furey's new cabinet will also be tasked with getting a handle on the province's dire financial situation, tabling a budget while facing a deficit that was expected to hit $2.1 billion at the time Furey was originally sworn in.
"Everyone in the province knows too well the reality of the situation. As do we. This will be the hardest thing that we all have to do," Furey said.
"But that important work starts again today. For our government there is only one road, and that road is forward."
Furey said there's "no magic bullet" nor one single budget that will fix the province's financial woes.
He promised a "bold" new Newfoundland and Labrador with evolution and change, pitting his government against the status quo.
"I believe that this is the team to do just that. There are indeed hard decisions in front of us, but together we will chart the course," Furey said.
Furey said his vision for the province is a transition to renewable energy while maximizing on the oil and gas sector in the meantime.
He said the province will foster new technology, grow the sector beyond the province's borders and embrace new approaches in other industries, including fishing and mining.
Furey also said there's work to be done in the health-care system "by becoming healthier people" and fully realizing the province's commitment to Indigenous communities "by living reconciliation now."
Calls for gender parity
The unveiling of the Liberal cabinet comes as the Progressive Conservative Party is called on Furey to form the province's first provincial cabinet with gender parity.
"Seize the moment and make history by appointing the seven women that have been elected in the Liberal caucus to cabinet," said Progressive Conservative MHA Helen Conway Ottenheimer in a media release Wednesday morning.
Lela Evans, MHA for Torngat Mountains and PC critic for Labrador affairs, also called for a cabinet that includes more women.
Watch Furey's swearing-in ceremony:
"Gender parity in Furey's cabinet would be a strong signal that the voices of women in our politics are heard and have key insight into the future of our province," said Evans in the release.
"Furey has an opportunity to make history, and I encourage him to take it."
Nine of the PCs' 40 candidates in the last election were women. Two of them, Evans and Conway Ottenheimer, were re-elected.
"There were seven that were unsuccessful, unfortunately, but they were amazing women who had so much to offer but we are working hard to see that women will be elected," said Conway Ottenheimer.
Of the 14 members of Furey's last cabinet, sworn in last August, three were women. Today, Furey's cabinet has 16 cabinet members, five of whom are women.
Parsons said she's grateful for the opportunity and pleased the women and gender equality office stands alone. Most recently, status of women was lumped together with Indigenous and Labrador affairs. Parsons called the premier a feminist, and said she's confident in Furey and knows he's passionate about women's issues.
"I'm very passionate about this topic and I really look forward to embarking this new role," she said.
"This is the highest number of women in a decade in cabinet. We're at five women as opposed to the three last time, so it certainly is a positive move forward."
Seven of the 22 Liberal candidates elected last month were women.
Furey said it's important to have more women running in politics and it's something his government will focus on.
"This is the right combination of skills and gender for the problems that we face," he said.
"This is amongst the highest proportion, an absolute number of women in cabinet.… If there's ample opportunity in the future to see how we can attract more women to run and be successful, I think promoting Minister Parsons to that role will help that and, equally, promoting Minister Howell."
Equal Voice NL media liaison Courtney Clarke said her group voiced their concerns eight months ago when the status of women portfolio lost its solo status under Furey. Under former premier Dwight Ball the portfolio was a standalone.
"Premier Furey listened. We're very happy to see that it's now back to being a standalone office. Only having 25 per cent of a minister's time is not enough for us to get meaningful things done," Clarke told CBC News.
"It basically provides the ability for more effective long-term strategies to be put in place."
Equal Voice NL is a group dedicated to electing more women to all levels of political office in Canada.
Cabinet size a surprise, says opposition
Meanwhile, interim Opposition Leader David Brazil told reporters he's looking forward to working with Furey and his cabinet, but added he's surprised Furey is adding ministers — and expense — to the cabinet when the province should be trying to save money.
"I assume he feels he needs the extra ministers to implement his policies and programs, which I'm looking forward to seeing what they are and how the ministers themselves implement those," Brazil said.
"Hopefully the programs and policies are in the best interests of the people of Newfoundland and Labrador."
Brazil said he assumes Furey wants to reward as many people as possible within his narrow majority government.
"Every million dollars that you save is a million dollars that either gets our debt down or can be better directed toward some other services that the people of Newfoundland and Labrador not only need, but deserve," he said.
"The Department for Women's Affairs is something that we welcome. That was in our blue book.… But we felt some of the other ones could have been combined, some of the infrastructure processes, some of the program processes could have been combined with an existing minister."
With files from Mark Quinn, Carolyn Stokes and Terry Roberts