Andrew Furey next N.L. premier after winning Liberal leadership

The next N.L. premier is...

Andrew Furey will be Newfoundland and Labrador's next premier after winning the provincial Liberal party leadership Monday.

Furey, a physician and founder of a charity, beat out John Abbott in the contest to replace Premier Dwight Ball.

The celebration at the St. John's Convention Centre was subdued as just 50 people were allowed to attend because of COVID-19 health restrictions.

Furey will step into a difficult governing period, as the already cash-strapped province reels from the financial impact of the pandemic and falling oil prices.

In his victory speech, Furey called on the province's residents to stand together. "Your passion and strength are needed now more than ever before in our history," he said.

He said overcoming the province's economic crisis is not a short-term proposition, and "tough decisions" will have to be made.

"Make no mistake, the path will not be easy, but I can say that things will be done differently," Furey said. "The status quo no longer works, and quite frankly we can't afford it any more. We must get away from that well-worn path of boom and bust and back again."

Both Furey and Abbott are political novices, with neither having held elected office before.

Party officials said more than 21,000 Liberal members and supporters cast ballots in a vote conducted online and by telephone. Under the point system used by the party according to districts won, Furey nearly doubled Abbott's score.

But before the result was even announced, Abbott issued a statement calling for an independent audit of the voting process, saying it had been seriously flawed.

The statement said his campaign had come across registered voters who had died, whose phones were no longer in service or who had no idea how they came to be on the voters list. It also said people who had registered to vote never received the PIN needed to cast a ballot.

Ball announced his resignation in February, but the race to name his replacement was paused in March as the pandemic set in and the province declared a public health state of emergency.

The election resumed in June, after the province lifted some restrictions on gatherings, but attendance at the leadership convention held Monday was still tightly restricted.

The province reported a $2.1-billion deficit in a fiscal update last month, an increase of $1.35 billion since last year's budget.

On top of finalizing the provincial budget, the 14th premier will also have to contend with electricity rates that are expected to rise due to cost overruns from the over-budget Muskrat Falls dam and an offshore oil and gas industry struggling to attract exploration activity.

A provincial election will be required within a year of the new premier's swearing-in.

During the leadership campaign, neither candidate was in a rush to hold a general election before next year.

The Progressive Conservatives, meanwhile, have opened candidate nominations and will hold a general meeting in October in apparent preparation.

Ball, who was re-elected with a minority government in 2019, has said he will stay on as the representative for his Humber-Gros Morne district until the next election.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 3, 2020.

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