Ball guarantees 2019 victory, maintains support at Liberal AGM

Delegates voted 79 per cent against a review of Dwight Ball's leadership.

79% vote in favour of Dwight Ball on leadership question

Delegates at the Liberal Party of Newfoundland and Labrador's annual general meeting stand and cheer after Dwight Ball guarantees his party will be re-elected in 2019. (Garrett Barry/CBC)

Down in the polls, but bolstered by what he calls an "awesome" confidence vote, Premier Dwight Ball guaranteed delegates at a Liberal convention Saturday night that he would lead them to re-election in 2019.

"To reporters in this room, take your pens out, take your notepads out, because I'm going to say something right now," Ball said.

"I'm going to guarantee to every single person in this room, and you can quote me on it, mark it down, I'm guaranteeing you that we will win the election in 2019."

Members of the Liberal Party of Newfoundland and Labrador voted 79 per cent against a review of the leadership of Dwight Ball at their annual general meeting on Saturday. 

That's down from the about 90 per cent who backed him in 2016 — though Ball called the result a "big endorsement."

"I think any politician would take 79 or 80 per cent in any election or any endorsement for the position," he said. "So I am very proud of our party this weekend."

Party President John Allan said the vote is a clear mandate for Ball leading up to the 2019 election.

The voting process was overseen by an outside accountant, with the premier's senior policy advisor acting as scrutineer. 

Support for Ball

Ball acknowledged he worked hard to get as much support as possible on the leadership question, but denied any impropriety in Saturday's vote.

Responding concerns that he brought a high number of delegates from his own district, Ball said such a move was "not unusual."

"This is very normal," he said. "We've seen this — not just in my district — but in other districts as well."

One of the delegates who endorsed Ball is former NDP MHA George Murphy.

Murphy, who was elected as an NDP member in 2011, had previously put his name on the ballot for the Liberals in 2003. He said he's done with the New Democratic Party, and returning to the Liberals was "like moving back home."

Former NDP MHA George Murphy is attending the Liberal AGM as a delegate. He previously ran for the Liberals in 2003. (Fred Hutton/CBC)

Murphy said he misses politics and hasn't ruled out running again, but wants to talk more with his family before making a decision.

Ball said he's willing to talk with Murphy about a future in the Liberal party.

"George Murphy's a Liberal who just got a little waylaid in my view," he said.

'Moving ahead'

Prior to Saturday's vote, it was all business at the party's AGM, shaping policy and partaking in workshops.

The second day of the convention began with a broad-ranging session on workplace harassment.

The discussion of harassment comes following allegations of bullying and harassment were levelled against Eddie Joyce and Dale Kirby by MHAs, resulting in both being removed from caucus and cabinet.

There was no mention of the allegations within the Liberal's own caucus, but it's a welcome conversation for cabinet minister Sherry Gambin-Walsh — one of the MHAs who filed those complaints.

Liberal cabinet minister Sherry Gambin-Walsh says the party is advancing by addressing issues of workplace harassment at its AGM. (Fred Hutton/CBC)

"It's great that we're actually having these types of sessions and that the party put this in the agenda … it's advancement, we're moving ahead," she said. 

MHA Pam Parsons agreed.

"The main thing is that it's being addressed," Parsons said.

Ball told reporters following his speech on Saturday that his party "didn't sweep those issues under the rug," and has been proactively dealing with allegations of harassment and bullying in his caucus.

A number of resolutions were also passed at a policy session early in the day, including resolutions supporting eliminating the gender wage gap, replacement of colonial symbols and a motion to ban plastic straws in bars and restaurants.

During discussion around the motion regarding colonial symbols, Torngat Mountains MHA Randy Edmunds urged the meeting's chair to allow him to break protocol to share his feelings on the motion. 

"The coat of arms … was designed in the 1600s, I think we've come a long way since then," he said. 

"As an Aboriginal person, to see the emblems of those who represent us displayed as the noble savages, I think we've come a lot further than that."

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With files from Fred Hutton and Garrett Barry