Nfld. & Labrador

Liberals have placed opportunism ahead of public health, says John Abbott

Any niceties have disappeared in the Liberal leadership content, with contender Abbott blasting the party and his opponent Thursday.

Leadership contender blasts party and his opponent, Andrew Furey, for decision to proceed with election

John Abbott, left, and Andrew Furey are vying to become the next leader of the Liberal Party of Newfoundland and Labrador. The winner will also automatically become the province's next premier. (CBC)

Any niceties have disappeared from the Newfoundland and Labrador Liberal leadership contest, with contender John Abbott blasting the party and his opponent Thursday, accusing them of political opportunism during a public health crisis.

"The only motivation for the party and (Andrew) Furey would seem to be to replace the current premier as fast as they can, with no regard for the disruption it will cause during this critical time," Abbott wrote in a strongly worded statement.

The party decided Wednesday to proceed with an election to replace Dwight Ball, with a new leader and premier being determined following several days of online and telephone voting on May 9.

Party officials defended the decision, saying they felt it was possible to conduct the election while upholding the strict social distancing standards being recommended by public health experts.

John Samms and Judy Morrow, members of the leadership election planning committee for the Liberal Party of Newfoundland and Labrador, announced Wednesday that the vote to select a new party leader will proceed with online and telephone voting. (Terry Roberts/CBC)

Abbott vigorously opposed the idea, saying the campaign should be suspended because of the public health emergency related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The candidate favoured to win, Andrew Furey, took the opposite view and said the vote should proceed.

The Opposition Progressive Conservatives also weighed in Thursday, saying a leadership change in the midst of a pandemic is unwise and will hurt the government's response.

"Transition of government is disruptive throughout the public service, particularly as new people have to be brought up to speed on everything the government has been doing. Officials of every department become consumed with preparing briefing notes and holding meetings to bring new people into the loop," PC Leader Ches Crosbie said in a statement.

Abbott accused the party and Furey of putting "opportunism ahead of the overall public interest."

He said the current environment, which requires people to keep their distance from each other in an effort to prevent the spread of the virus, will deny many people the opportunity to fully participate in the election of the province's 14th premier.

Just after the Liberals revealed the decision to proceed, the province declared a public health emergency, which places more restrictions on people and businesses.

That means candidates will not be able to use traditional campaign strategies like knocking on doors and visiting coffee shops, and must now depend on telephone blitzes and online strategies.

"People living in areas where there is no or limited access to internet, like parts of Labrador or southern parts of the island, may be completely excluded from any opportunity to hear directly from the candidates," Abbott said.

Abbott said mainstream media are too focused on COVID-19 coverage to provide any in-depth coverage of the leadership campaign.

Abbott said it's unnecessary for the party to rush the leadership process, since Ball has indicated a willingness to stay in the premier's chair for as long as needed.

"The Liberal Party and Dr. Furey had an opportunity to show real leadership and put the interests of the people of the province before their own," Abbott said. "They failed the election process and they failed all Newfoundlanders and Labradorians."

CBC has requested an interview with Andrew Furey.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

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