House of Assembly reopening next week, with provincial budget coming in June
MHAs sworn in Monday, Liberal Derek Bennett elected Speaker on 2nd ballot
Newly elected and re-elected members of the House of Assembly are being sworn in Monday, but Premier Andrew Furey is already facing questions about the provincial budget, which he says will be presented in June.
He painted a grim pictures of the challenges facing the province, but insisted a drastic approach won't be in the financial blueprint.
"There is no one budget that's going to fix the situation that we're in. It's taken us five,10 years to get to the situation that we're in and it's going to us that time to get out of it. So there is no one budget that's going to fix everything," he told reporters at Confederation Building on Monday.
"This is going to be a very balanced, measured, strategic approach that's going to be 10 years in the making."
The throne speech will be delivered Thursday, while the House of Assembly reopens for regular business on April 19.
Furey on Monday noted there isn't a single crisis or issue that Newfoundland and Labrador is dealing with, but several interwoven problems.
"Right now, there is the acuity of the public health crisis, there is the economic crisis, and that's all compounded, frankly, by the dependency crisis, the demographic crisis that's facing the province right now."
Furey didn't indicate what will be among the first steps to right the province's financial ship.
Baie Verte-Green Bay MHA Brian Warr is the first of 39 to complete the swearing in process. <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/nlpoli?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#nlpoli</a> <a href="https://t.co/HfOIf6eVUU">pic.twitter.com/HfOIf6eVUU</a>—@TRobertst
Thirty-nine of the 40 MHAs were sworn in Monday. The exception is John Abbott, elected in St. John's East-Quidi Vidi, where NDP Leader Alison Coffin, defeated by 53 votes, has filed for a recount.
Furey said he wouldn't comment on issues that were before the court, but said "Mr. Abbott will be a strong member of the team."
New Speaker, and a pay bump
A record five candidates put their names forward for the position of Speaker: Liberal Derek Bennett, Liberal Sherry Gambin-Walsh, Liberal Scott Reid, Liberal Brian Warr and PC Paul Dinn. Reid previously served as speaker.
Gambin-Walsh received the fewest votes in the first round, so she was out of the race. Bennett won on the second ballot.
Bennett and Warr, who previously sat in cabinet, were both snubbed by Premier Andrew Furey in the creation of his inner circle last week.—@TRobertst
While an MHA is paid just over $93,000, the Speaker earns an extra $49,000, which is equivalent to a cabinet minister's earnings.
PC Opposition Leader David Brazil congratulated Bennett, calling the role a "historic and important one."
Dinn, a PC, and who also wanted the job, took his loss in stride.
"In a democracy, it's important to have credible options and I'm happy to have played my role as a candidate in today's Speaker election. I look forward to working with Speaker Bennett in the weeks and months ahead," he said via statement.
Furey defends calling shortest campaign possible
The election timing plagued Furey at points on the campaign trail. In-person voting was suspended for almost half of the province's districts just 12 hours before the polls were set to open as N.L. grappled with an outbreak of COVID-19 cases.
An article published April 9 by Radio-Canada's Patrick Butler revealed that the province's chief electoral officer warned Furey that a short campaign came with risks associated with mailing special ballots out and receiving them back.
"I have concerns that a significant number of ballots may not be returned in time to be counted," Bruce Chaulk wrote to Furey nine days before the Liberal leader called the election.
Despite those concerns, on Jan. 15, Furey called a 28-day election — the shortest possible campaign under the province's electoral law.
The Opposition accused Furey of misleading the public, but on Monday, the premier insisted he did nothing wrong.
"I didn't withhold any information from the public. When calling an election, there are many things to weigh and balance, including the time frame and how much time candidates are going to have to take off. And of course in this period of time we had to weigh and balance the COVID-19 pandemic," he said.
"We took some of his recommendations but not all of them, and I think now we need to move forward with the Liberal majority that we've been given to modernize the Election Act so we don't find ourselves in this position again."
With files from Terry Roberts