Windsor Lake byelection candidates face off in debate with potential impact beyond the district

The three House of Assembly hopefuls participated a live, province-wide televised byelection debate on CBC’s Here & Now Thursday night.

Paul Antle, Ches Crosbie and Kerri Claire Neil running in Sept. 20 byelection

PC Leader Ches Crosbie, NDP candidate Kerri Claire Neil, and Liberal candidate Paul Antle in the CBC studio in St. John's for a debate on Sept. 6, before a byelection in the Windsor Lake district on Sept. 20. (CBC)

The next provincial general election may be more than a year away, but the three parties got the chance to hone their pitches and test them for voters in Windsor Lake — and beyond — during a province-wide televised byelection debate on CBC's Here & Now Thursday night.

The candidates talked about everything from the impact of Muskrat Falls to the evergreen political topic of jobs, while also touching on local issues ranging from wetlands to problems faced by cabin owners.

Windsor Lake is just one seat of 40 in the legislature. But what happens in this St. John's district could have a big impact on next year's province-wide vote.

Progressive Conservative Leader Ches Crosbie has indicated that failure to win a ticket to the House of Assembly representing Windsor Lake would be "a blow to our chances to form a government."

Liberal candidate Paul Antle was runner-up for leadership of his party in 2013, and would likely become a big player in the government if he wins the seat. He was unsuccessful in another St. John's district in 2015.

I know how to get things done. I know how to create jobs. I employ more than 400 people. I know how to attract investment. I've raised hundreds of millions of dollars.- Liberal candidate Paul Antle

The NDP is hoping for a revival of its fortunes, after the party briefly topped the polls five years ago. Kerri Claire Neil is the latest in a wave of young progressive candidates in St. John's — potentially fertile ground for the party.

The performance of all three candidates was mostly measured, if sometimes meandering off the moderator's topic, with a few prickly moments.

Watch the full debate in the embedded video below

'No fight in Dwight'

Crosbie broached the idea of getting more from Ottawa — something he contended the current Liberal government is failing to do.

"There's no fight in Dwight," Crosbie said.

He also took issue with the Liberal economic record for job creation.

"Three years of the Dwight Ball Liberal government way forward has left us dead last going backward," he noted.

Three years of the Dwight Ball Liberal government way forward has left us dead last going backward.- PC candidate Ches Crosbie

Antle, meanwhile, put the blame for tough decisions made by the Ball administration onto the shoulders on the Tories, who were vanquished from government nearly three years ago.

He said taxes are high because efforts to fight the $2.7-billion deficit the Liberals inherited when they took office.

"We have to do better, and we will," he said. "As our tax base expands, more jobs created, more savings realized, more taxes will come down."

And he touted his business background.

"I know how to get things done. I know how to create jobs. I employ more than 400 people. I know how to attract investment. I've raised hundreds of millions of dollars."

'Fed up' with Tory, Liberal record

Neil, meanwhile, stressed her credentials as a feminist, activist, and social economist.

She took aim at corporate grants for big companies, such as Canopy Growth, which will receive up to $40 million in government incentives to produce cannabis here.

"If you can't make money selling marijuana, you probably shouldn't be in business," Neil said.

I am fed up with watching the Liberals and the Progressive Conservatives mismanage our economy.- NDP candidate Kerri Claire Neil

Neil said the economic performance of both other parties leaves much to be desired.

"I am fed up with watching the Liberals and the Progressive Conservatives mismanage our economy," Neil said.

"And I believe that if we elect people who understand the issues and have solutions that put our people first, we can do things better."

And she was critical of the other parties' records on Muskrat Falls.

"I have been raising concerns and researching this project since it was first proposed. They have been telling us that there is nothing to worry about. That our negativity is disrupting their good ideas. Well, we have a right to be concerned, because our concerns are real."

Crosbie brings up former MHA

One of the thornier moments happened when Crosbie referenced the previous MHA.

Former finance minister Cathy Bennett has said she was intimidated and bullied within her own Liberal caucus and cabinet.

"Many people think that Cathy Bennett was thrown under the bus," Crosbie said to Antle.

"What makes you think that if you were elected, Dwight Ball would not throw you under the bus?"

Antle sidestepped that question, and steered the conversation back to the the Liberal economic plan compared to the Tories.

Crosbie also floated the idea that Antle is running to ensure government help for his plans for the Marystown shipyard.

"This debate is not about my efforts to revive the Marystown shipyard," Antle replied.

"My business activities and my efforts as an entrepreneur are well known, well respected, with a high degree of integrity. And if I can bring jobs and opportunity and investment to the people of the Burin Peninsula, and I can attract tens of millions of dollars, foreign investors, to help do that, then I am not going to apologize for that."

The Windsor Lake byelection is scheduled for Sept. 20.

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About the Author

Rob Antle

CBC News

Rob Antle is producer for CBC's investigative unit in Newfoundland and Labrador.