Power plays, health spending and jobs: Where the party leaders clashed in the televised debate
Health care, Muskrat Falls take top billing
The leaders of Newfoundland and Labrador's Liberal and Progressive Conservative parties asked each other to atone for massive hydroelectric projects on the Churchill River during a heated exchange in the televised leaders debate Wednesday night.
"Why don't you apologize for what Smallwood did about the Upper Churchill contract?" asked PC Leader Ches Crosbie, against shouts from Liberal Leader Dwight Ball, referring to a long-running contract that will not expire until 2041.
"Are you proud of what your party did to Newfoundlanders and Labradorians, sir?" Ball retorted, after discussing the Muskrat Falls megaproject's impact on the provincial debt.
"Was it a mistake, Mr. Crosbie?"
NDP Leader Alison Coffin — who fired darts of her own against the other leaders — joined Ball and Crosbie for a televised debate produced from CBC's studios in St. John's.
Pitching their platforms to voters ahead of the May 16 election, the leaders of the province's three main parties debated job creation, health care, electricity rates and domestic violence during the hour-long telecast, in which they fielded questions from reporters.
The first fireworks of the night came early, when Ball and Crosbie faced off on a question about health care.
The Liberal leader pressed Crosbie on comments he made to media in April, where he suggested the creation of a quasi-judicial board to oversee health care spending. He said at the time that there was "waste in health care."
"That's a good place to start while preserving the quality of care you can root out a lot of waste," he told reporters at the time. He's since told reporters that he would maintain the current levels of health care spending, but would change how money is spent.
Ball attacked Crosbie on the debate floor, continually asking him whether or not he said he would cut health care spending.
"Do you remember those words?…You're saying you never said starting with health care, that's a good place to start?" Ball asked. "You said that last week Mr. Crosbie, it is recorded."
Crosbie said the government has had four years to improve the health care system, but — according to Crosbie — it's still the most expensive in the country, and delivers the worst outcomes.
"Show where you have improved health care in this province in the last four years," Crosbie said.
You can watch the entire televised leaders debate in the video player below.
When answering a question about his rate mitigation plan, Ball said it was a "shame" the provincial government money had to be spent on the task.
"The Muskrat Falls project has put quite the burden on Newfoundlanders and Labradorians and Mr. Crosbie tonight still will not say that that project was a mistake," Ball said.
Crosbie accused Ball of supporting the project, referencing old statements in the House of Assembly and Twitter posts. Ball answered that he could support "the principles" but not the "cost and mismanagement," which Ball blamed on the Tories.
Leaders squared off on the project a second time later in the debate, when a question on climate change turned into a debate about rate mitigation and the Muskrat Falls project.
"You're having us believe that you cannot read and you cannot hear," Crosbie said, accusing Ball of "twisting the truth" on the PC party's rate mitigation plan.
Ball answered that he could read and hear what was being said at the judicial inquiry into the Muskrat Falls project.
Ball and Coffin faced off over a question about retention of young people and recent high-school graduates.
After Coffin said her party wants to see tuition eliminated at Memorial University, Ball touted the province's increase in employment over the past year.
According to Statistics Canada, 7,000 more people worked in Newfoundland and Labrador in March 2019 than March 2018.
"What kind of jobs?" asked Coffin. "Are they going to domestic people? Are they minimum wage jobs? Do they have pensions?"
"Ms. Coffin, you really don't want to hear the good news," Ball replied.
Coffin then attacked the Liberal government's decision to fund a call centre company's move to St. John's, implying those jobs are not high quality.
Their pitch to you
Each party leader was offered an opening and closing statement to make their pitch, uninterrupted, to voters.
Crosbie used his opening statement to echo a famous debate line from U.S. president Ronald Reagan.
"You just filed your taxes. Are you better off today than you were four years ago?" he asked.
"You just filled your gas tank, are you better off? You just paid your insurance premium, are you better off?"
The PC leader said he would make jobs and hope his first priority. He said under the Liberal watch, Newfoundland and Labrador lost thousands of jobs — and argued that he was a "new broom, a new leader, and new management" for the PC party.
In his closing statement, Liberal Leader Dwight Ball answered Crosbie's questions — at least, one version of them.
"Mr. Crosbie tends to ask if our province is better off today than it was four years ago, the simple answer to that is yes," he said. "Mr. Crosbie and his PC friends left our province in turmoil …provincial finances in disarray."
Dwight Ball said the Liberal Party's plan — titled the Way Forward — was the best plan for the province.
NDP Leader Alison Coffin said the debate proved her party was "different."
"I have been an economist in this province for 25 years. I have seen the collapse of our fisheries, I have seen the devastating effects of downturns in oil prices. I have seen missed opportunities and poor choices made by previous governments. Liberal and Tory governments have saddled us with enormous debt," she said.
"It does not have to be this way. I know that an economy can work for all of us."
With files from Terry Roberts