Furey’s Dangerous Folly in Newfoundland and Labrador

by Victor Morgan

What does it mean to lead a province? To Newfoundland and Labrador Liberal Party leader Andrew Furey, it means risking the lives of his constituents to push for power in the middle of a pandemic.  It means jumping headlong into what will most likely be one of the biggest controversies of his time. An election call during a pandemic is ill advised, no matter the reason. Andrew Furey went a step farther, setting a March 25 election, at the dead center of an outbreak of a COVID-19 variant strain in the eastern-most province of Canada, Newfoundland and Labrador. He put the lives of voters in greater danger than at the height of the previous wave of non-variant COVID-19. If the health of ordinary people meant anything to Andrew Furey, he would have called off the election in its early stages. So, why didn’t he?

How many volunteers and vote counters needed to walk off the job for him to get the message that this isn’t safe? How many health officials needed to condemn the election? How many angry voters needed to phone, email and question the process? How many voters needed to risk their lives to gather and vote? For Andrew Furey none of these mattered enough. Clearly, the election was more important than any health impact this could have wrought.

What was his answer to these issues? Mail-in voting! A process that leaves thousands of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians behind. Live in a small community? You don’t get a ballot. Live in an outport community? You don’t get one either. Don’t speak English? You can’t get one in your language — they are only in English, despite our extremely varied and multi-cultural population. There was clearly not enough time or foresight that went into the mail-in system.  My riding, Coast of Bays, and surrounding areas has nearly 100,000 voters. We were left out almost entirely by the mail-in ballot system — very few of us receiving anything at all, even after many requests. Mail-in was offered only as a last resort to soften the rage many Newfoundlanders and Labradorians felt – which was akin to trying to subdue an angry elephant with a wet pool noodle. This entire move just stinks of us (the voters) being used to further Andrew’s own political goals and career. It’s no wonder voter turnout was less than half (48.2 per cent) — the lowest since 2008.

There is no question that this was an extremely ill-timed push for power, just as some other provincial Premiers did to consolidate their control. Despite the insanity of an election during a pandemic, it worked out in Andrew Furey’s favor with 48 per cent of the vote going to the NL Liberals! In an historically contentious election, they still managed to scratch out a victory by gaining an extra three seats.

Three former Liberals turned independents and won as well. Eddie Joyce is a former leader of the Liberal opposition in the NL House of Assembly.  He was removed pending an investigation into harassment and then denied re-entry to the Liberal caucus in 2018. Paul Lane is a Conservative, turned Liberal, turned independent, all in the short span of five years. Paul Lane first crossed the floor from Conservative to Liberal to protest the leadership of Kathy Dunderdale. Lane was later suspended from the Liberal caucus for voting with the opposition on the 2016 budget. Paul Lane also supported giving the hydro-electric project at Muskrat Falls, and Nalcor (a provincial energy corporation), special exemptions from the “Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act”. Finally, there is Perry Trimper, who willfully resigned from the Liberal party amid mounting pressure and after many people, including among the Innu Nation, called for him to be removed due to multiple allegations of racism over the years. Chief among these instances is a CBC radio interview in which he defended police brutality against a handcuffed and homeless indigenous man by saying it resulted from the latter “choosing a risky lifestyle”. His response to the outrage this sparked was a non-apologetic “I’m sorry you felt that way.” He ran as an independent to “speak more freely”, without the Liberals slapping him on the wrist for condoning systemic racism.

This election was so problematic the very legitimacy of it is being called into question by the New Democratic Party NL Leader Alison Coffin.  She is challenging the election in court, stating it was unconstitutional and that voting errors were “numerous and severe”. The court challenge alleges Chief Electoral Officer Bruce Chaulk oversaw an election that was not fair, impartial or in compliance with the province’s Elections Act. Court documents further allege Bruce Chaulk took home ballot kits and advised staffers to do the same, and also allege his employees were encouraged to register voters who did not have proper identification. Following Alison Coffin’s legal action, two Conservative candidates filed challenges in court to the election results in their respective districts.

Brazen power grabs by political leaders should not be tolerated. Sadly, this is business as usual in capitalist politics.  It is another reason why socialists reject the current system and fight for a Workers’ Government. The top priority should be the protection of people and the eradication of the virus, not “how many votes can I get versus how many people may get sick”. It’s obvious the wellbeing of voters isn’t a priority of the big business parties.

Look at the damage done to our fisheries by the catastrophic deal involving the provincial government in which a foreign corporation, Royal Greenland, was allowed to purchase six seafood processing plants initially, and later an additional four plants, giving a foreign government a massive amount of control over our domestic fisheries which have historically been owned by the people of the province.  This is driving the industry ever more toward a monopoly. 

What’s coming next? How else will we be used as pawns in Andrew Furey’s games? Only time will tell.

Victor Morgan is the Treasurer of the Socialist Action Atlantic Region Branch.  Email: victormorgan.NL@outlook.com   Tel: (709) 571-4355