Nfld. & Labrador

Liberal leadership race to remain suspended, Abbott reprimanded

Aspiring premier John Abbott says Newfoundland and Labrador should move to Alert Level 3 before the party revives its leadership campaign, but the party disagrees.

Candidate John Abbott punished for issuing media release on Sunday

John Abbott says the Liberal leadership campaign should not resume until Newfoundland and Labrador moves to Alert Level 3. File photo. (Terry Roberts/CBC)

The Newfoundland and Labrador Liberal leadership election committee says the race for premier will remain suspended for at least a couple more weeks, but candidate John Abbott has been reprimanded for his comments related to the pause.

In a statement Sunday, Abbott — who is competing with surgeon and Team Broken Earth founder Andrew Furey for the leadership — said the party should wait until the province loosens more restrictions when it moves to a more relaxed level in the COVID-19 pandemic.

"What's the rush?" said Abbott. "We're asking people to make a decision that could dictate the fate of our province. We owe it to them to allow that decision to be made after getting something of their lives back." 

On Monday, the committee issued its own press release, saying the suspension of the leadership election will be upheld, and the committee will meet on May 25 to further review it.

The committee also said Abbott has been served a written reprimand for violating supplementary rules, which prohibit leadership candidates from "campaign-related media commentary until such time as the leadership election resumes."

"Public health advice will remain top of mind throughout our deliberations on lifting the suspension. So too will equity, integrity, and fairness of this campaign," committee co-chair John Samms said in Monday's statement.

"We are hopeful that we can continue to address these issues in a dispassionate manner, in the public interest, with politics set aside until the campaign resumes.

Liberal Party president John Allan, left, and John Samms, co-chair of the leadership election committee, speak at an event. File photo. (Danny Arsenault/CBC)

The campaign was halted March 23, as the province moved into a public health emergency — forcing many businesses and institutions to close, and leaving tens of thousands of people either out of work or working from home.

Rules too tight to resume: Abbott

Abbott's statement preceded Newfoundland and Labrador's move to Alert Level 4 on Monday, the first loosening of rules since the government declared a public health emergency. The transition allows for some modest changes to daily life, such as the reopening of trails in public parks and increasing the number of people who can attend a funeral, burial, or wedding to 10.

Abbott said with a "minimal loosening of restrictions," the rules are still too tight for a leadership campaign to resume. 

"Essentially the province is in the same situation it faced when the party was forced to pause the election at the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis," Abbott said in the statement.

Abbott would like the party to wait until Alert Level 3 is declared.

No date set for Alert Level 3

Dr. Janice Fitzgerald, the chief medical officer of health, has not set a date for Alert Level 3, but has said the province could move from Level 4 to Level 3 in 28 days so long as there are no new or very few new cases of COVID-19, the highly infectious viral disease that has infected more than four million people worldwide and caused more than 284,000 deaths.

Premier Dwight Ball triggered a leadership race in February when he announced his plans to retire, as soon as the Liberal Party could select his successor.

That convention had originally been scheduled for last Saturday. The race, however, was indefinitely postponed because of concerns that campaigning would be too risky.

Some Liberal sources said last week the party would like to have the race concluded by June, without a traditional convention. Instead, party members would vote online or by telephone.

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