Nfld. & Labrador

Kevin Aylward: Changing the Liberal guard

Kevin Aylward has come out of political retirement to lead the Liberals into the Oct. 11 election. At 51, he already has a considerable political resume.
Kevin Aylward took over the leadership of the Liberal party in August from Yvonne Jones. CBC

Until August, Yvonne Jones had been expected to be the face of the Liberal campaign in the provincial election. That all changed, however, when Jones — who has been battling breast cancer for a year — was told that her health was not strong enough to withstand the gruelling work of the campaign leading up to the Oct. 11 election.

Long story short, Kevin Aylward is now guiding the Liberal party, and is the political comeback story of the year.

Kevin Aylward in 2004 described himself as 'more of a rabid Newfoundland nationalist than anything else.' (CBC)

Aylward, who turned 51 shortly after he was named leader by the provincial Liberal party executive, has an enviable political resume. Nine years in cabinet under four different Liberal premiers, he also fought five provincial campaigns, never to be defeated.

Though he has a quiet demeanour, Aylward has also been known to make provocative comments, and he promises to shake things up on the campaign trail.

"I would call myself now more of a rabid Newfoundland nationalist than anything else at this point," Aylward told the St. John's Independent in 2004, a year after he retired from politics and had time to reflect on what he had learned — and seen — from a high perch at Confederation Building.

Asked about the comment in August during an appearance on CBC Radio's Crosstalk, Aylward said he stands by it — but with the note that he ought to have said "Newfoundland and Labrador."

Aylward, in fact, said he intends to bring that view to the provincial campaign, and said his targets include not only the governing Progressive Conservatives but the province's relationship with the Government of Canada.

Kevin Aylward was only 24 when he was first elected to the house of assembly, in 1985. (CBC)

"The platform of the Liberal Party of Newfoundland and Labrador is going to reflect very much the sentiment of ensuring the [delivery of] services that were supposed to be provided by the federal government. 

"That sentiment will be reflected, for the right reasons."

Aylward took on the leadership less than two months before election day. While the Liberals had said that the bulk of the party's platform was already in place before Jones stepped down — she had announced one plank, about aging and extending home-based care for seniors — Aylward said there will be changes, and that his style will carry through if he forms the government.

"It won't be business as usual, I can guarantee you," he said.

Born in Stephenville Crossing in 1960, Aylward will be facing off against Government House Leader Joan Burke, who succeeded Aylward in the district of St. George's-Stephenville East in 2003.

Kevin Aylward held several cabinet positions under Liberal premiers Clyde Wells, Brian Tobin, Beaton Tulk and Roger Grimes. ((CBC) )

Aylward has spent much of his adult life in the public eye. He was first elected to the house of assembly in 1985, when he was only 24. When the Liberals took power in 1989, he sat in the backbenches for five years. From 1994 through 2003, he held multiple cabinet portfolios, including environment, agriculture and tourism.

Aylward left cabinet in February 2003, in a shakeup that then-premier Roger Grimes initiated to prepare for what would turn out to be a failed bid at re-election. Aylward declined to run again and instead headed to private life. In addition to a stint managing the authority running Happy Valley-Goose Bay's airport, he has worked as a consultant specializing in human resources and environmental issues.

Aylward said he had no regrets about leaving.

"Being in a cabinet at a young age, nine years in a row, I wanted to move on," said Aylward, a father of two.

"I decided that it was time to get a new perspective on life. I wanted to explore the business world, and I did that. It was a very enjoyable experience."

Now, however, Aylward says his priority is again on public life — and persuading voters that he is the one to lead them.