With Yvonne Jones taking her walk into the proverbial sunset as provincial leader of the Liberal party just two months before an election, the dynamics of the upcoming vote have transformed.
All about the Jones
Yvonne Jones was first elected in the House of Assembly as an independent MHA for Labrador in 1996. She later joined the Liberal caucus and was re-elected in 1999, 2003, and 2007. Following the decimation of the provincial Liberal party in 2007 at the hands of Danny Williams, Jones was one of only three Liberals elected and was subsequently named interim leader of the party following the resignation of Gerry Reid. This position became permanent in a leadership convention in 2010 where she was the only contestant – a leadership convention that the party had twice delayed since 2008. Jones was diagnosed with breast cancer in July of 2010 which required surgery and treatment, and which the party has cited as the deciding factor behind her decision to step away from the leadership. Her departure as leader will likely bring an end to the historic possibility that all party leaders in a provincial election were to be women.
A harsh reality
Though Jones’ departure is on the advice of her doctor, who says that an election as leader may be too much for her weakened immune system from her fight with cancer, it cannot be ignored that there were rumours of Jones’ imminent departure for quite some time. Almost immediately following Danny Williams’ retirement as Premier, there was a renewed sense of optimism within the party’s grassroots, and regret; only months beforehand Jones was acclaimed as leader. Thinking at the time that there were at least a few years of Williams’ reign left, the party was disappointed – not that Jones was the leader, but that she became that leader only months beforehand without even a challenger. Anxiety continued to build when the party couldn’t make up ground even after Williams’ departure. Since becoming leader in 2007, the provincial Liberal party has shown no growth in popular support and Jones’ popularity as leader has consistently polled below those of the party’s; the party has also not been able to tackle its significant debt issues in the past 4 years. Though Jones resisted the calls for new leadership and vigorously denied the persistent rumours of her resignation over the past year, the fact of the matter is that here we are: two months from a general election and Yvonne Jones has stepped down.
So what now for the party? Who leads? The popular rumour has been Dean MacDonald – business partner and friend of Danny Williams. While conspiracy theorists will insist the “rift” between Williams and Dunderdale was intentional to pave the way for Willams’ support of MacDonald, MacDonald has repeatedly denied that he is interested in the Liberal leadership this time around. Other names that have surfaced include: Chuck Furey, a Liberal party veteran and heavy hitter during Brian Tobin’s premiership; Randy Simms, current mayor of Mount Pearl and host of VOCM’s open-line; and John Noseworthy, the former Auditor General for the province who broke open the MHA spending scandal in the early 2000’s. Whoever the leader may be, their presence will inject fresh blood into what will now be a very exciting 63 days of politics in Newfoundland and Labrador.
Where the parties stand
Popular support for the PCs has dropped considerably since Williams’ retirement, and the Spring and Summer has seen a number of high profile ministers announce that they will not be seeking re-election. But Dunderdale and her team feel that they have one big ace up their sleeve – the imminent announcement of a loan guarantee with the Federal government for the Muskrat Falls energy project in Labrador. Will it be enough? A better question: is there any way the PCs can lose when they currently hold 43 of the 48 seats in the House? The NDP under Lorraine Michael already has the majority of their team in place, and are hoping to ride the wave of new NDP support that began with the Federal election in the Spring. But with Layton’s departure and the controversy surrounding their possibly-separatist interim leader, is the electorate cooling to the NDP? Will federal voting patterns necessarily translate to provincial votes? And last but not least, the Liberals began to smell blood the moment Williams retired. They now hope that the momentum injected into the party withnew leadership will spill into the election campaign, re-energizing a support base that decided to take the Williams-years off. But is it possible to bounce back from only 4 seats in the House of Assembly to be a real contender?
Whatever the future holds, Yvonne Jones is set to step in front of microphones this afternoon to explain her decision and what lies ahead for her personally. In that fight, a fight for her health, we all support her – and hope she wins by acclamation.