Nfld. & Labrador

Party debt, Muskrat not related to decision: MacDonald

Dean MacDonald says his decision to stay clear of the Liberal leadership race next year has nothing to do with Muskrat Falls or the party's chronic debt.

Commitments to businesses to take priority for now, high-profile Liberal says

Businessman Dean MacDonald announces he would not be seeking to lead the provincial Liberals 5:02

Prominent Liberal businessman Dean MacDonald says his decision to stay clear of the Newfoundland and Labrador party's leadership race next year has nothing to do with profound differences of opinion over the Muskrat Falls project, or the party's chronic debt.

MacDonald, who told a Conception Bay South business group Wednesday that the timing is not right for a leadership bid, later told CBC News that his decision was based on his personal circumstances, and not the state of the provincial Liberals.

The provincial Liberals are coping with a debt burden of about $800,000, and have been deep in red ink since losing power in 2003 to the Progressive Conservatives.

"That debt thing is going to go away really fast," MacDonald told Here & Now, adding that the party will be revealing details on how it plans to get its finances in order. "That's not an issue."

MacDonald is a supporter of the plan to develop hydroelectric power on Muskrat Falls on Labrador's Churchill River - a stand that has put him at odds with others in the party, some of whom are dead-set in their opposition to the PC government's Lower Churchill plans.

"The party's always been very accepting of my stance on that," said MacDonald, who recently co-chaired a renewal campaign that aims to set up the Liberals for a provincial election in 2015.

"It wasn't an issue whatsoever. Not even remotely."

Nonetheless, Liberal sources have told CBC News there was a tense encounter in November between MacDonald and the Liberal party executive at a party convention in Gander.

Dean MacDonald speaks with reporters in St. John's on Wednesday, after bowing out of next year's Liberal leadership race. (CBC )

MacDonald, who had been a top executive for former premier Danny Williams at Cable Atlantic and who is now president of investment firm Tuckamore Capital, said he had too much on his plate to make a commitment to public office — at least for now.

"I'm very active in a whole bunch of businesses," MacDonald said. "It became very apparent that I couldn't [step away from them], not in a timely fashion."

The Liberals are not poised to pick a leader until next fall, and many in the party don't expect to see much movement among possible candidates until at least next spring.

Humber Valley MHA Dwight Ball, who has been leading the party on an interim basis since early January, said he knew the decision to not run was a tough one for MacDonald to make.

"The transition from private life and private business life, and being a busy man that he is, into the political world is not always easy, and I understand that," said Ball.

The Liberals hold six of the 48 seats in the house of assembly and retained Official Opposition status after the October 2011 election.

With files from David Cochrane