Nfld. & Labrador

St. John's comment splits Liberals

A prominent candidate's aggressive comments about St. John's have caused division among Liberals, as the party struggles to fill vacancies in the metro area.

'A hell of a lot more priorities outside the overpass'

Former Liberal party president Danny Dumaresque made critical comments Wednesday night about St. John's. (CBC )

A prominent candidate's aggressive comments about St. John's have caused division among Liberals, as the party struggles to fill vacancies in the metro area.

Former party president Danny Dumaresque, who spoke for the Liberals Tuesday at a debate sponsored by the St. John's Board of Trade, all but scoffed at a recent appeal from Mayor Dennis O'Keefe for a new deal on taxation.

"I would have to say to the mayor of this great city that there are a hell of a lot more priorities outside the overpass that need to be addressed before we start forking more money over to the City of St. John's," Dumaresque, the candidate in The Isles of Notre Dame, told the debate.

O'Keefe has asked the parties to revisit a regime that prohibits the city from collecting tax from the provincial government for its properties, including hospitals, even though it must provide municipal services.

At least one Liberal candidate has already distanced himself from the comments.

"I disagree with the comments of Mr. Dumaresque," George Joyce, the Liberal candidate in St. John's West, told the St. John's Morning Show on Wednesday.

"There are a lot of priority issues in St. John's West ... and the City of St. John's should be directly involved with the provincial government on dealing with issues that affect St. John's."

Meanwhile, O'Keefe demanded an answer from Liberal Leader Kevin Aylward on the party's stand on St. John's issues.

"In fact I call on [him] to publicly state whether or not what Mr. Dumaresque is saying is Liberal policy and I'd even go further and if it is Liberal policy, I would encourage all people who live in this city to take a good hard look at the Liberal candidates in their various districts," said O'Keefe.

The split between urban and rural voters has become evident through the Liberal campaign with Aylward emphasizing rural issues and economic fairness on daily basis.

The Liberals had been struggling to fill their slate, and on Wednesday found candidates for five vacancies, all in St. John's. The Liberals recruited Liberal staffers Joy Buckle and Kim Ploughman to run in Cape St. Francis and Conception Bay East-Bell Island, respectively, while campaign communications director Cynthia Layden Barron is running in Conception Bay South.

Also named as candidates were Dianne Randell in Ferryland and Phillip Mullins in Mount Pearl North.

Aylward said the gaps in the candidate list will soon be addressed.

"We'll have a full slate before the election, before the deadline," he said. "We have lots of traction and we have excellent candidates in St. John's."

Candidates have until Saturday to file nomination papers with Elections Newfoundland and Labrador.

The governing Progressive Conservatives rounded out their slate with a Sept. 13 nomination meeting in The Straits-White Bay North, while the NDP announced their final candidates on Monday.

The vacancies mean more than 60,000 potential voters still do not have a Liberal candidate to consider.

Aylward also makes no apologies for appealing directly to rural sensibilities, although he said urban voters should still find plenty in the Liberal platform to support, too.

"Rural areas of the province have been abandoned by the Dunderdale government, so we've identified those issues during the election," Aylward said.

"We're running on a platform for all of Newfoundland and Labrador, including metro St. John's."

The Liberals have not held a seat in the area since 2003, when they lost control of the government.