Austerity, privatization fears loom over uncertain Newfoundland and Labrador election

·2 min read

ST. JOHN'S, N.L. — Fears of austerity and privatization are bubbling over in Newfoundland and Labrador as the province faces an uncertain future and rumours swirl of an election call as early as next week.

After a major labour leader quit the provincial economic recovery team earlier this week, citing concerns about openness and collaboration, the head of a 20,000-member public sector union is voicing his concerns about the team, its chair and the impacts it could have on the province's workforce.

"This just appears to be cloaked in secrecy and lacking in transparency," Jerry Earle, president of the Newfoundland and Labrador Association of Public and Private Employees, said in an interview earlier this week.

Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Andrew Furey assembled the economic recovery team in the fall, tasking them with reviewing the province's expenses and mapping a way forward through a $1.84-billion deficit. He appointed as chair Moya Greene, a St. John's-born businesswoman known for privatizing Britain's Royal Mail postal service.

On Tuesday, Mary Shortall, the head of a labour organization representing about 70,000 workers in the province, resigned from the team. “I can say that the lack of transparency, top-down approach, rushed timeline, lack of real collaboration and an overall feeling that not all perspectives were being considered, or appreciated, are the overarching themes for my decision," Shortall said in a news release.

Earle said he met with Greene in December and that it did not go well. "Our impression was ... there was a path decided and it was not so much of a collaborative process," he said.

He said he was asked not to reveal what they talked about, a request he refused. Earle said he left that meeting deeply concerned that many public services, including health care — particularly in rural parts of the province — could be on the chopping block or up for privatization.

Meanwhile, the Progressive Conservative party and NDP are demanding that the economic recovery team's report and its recommendations be released before the province heads to the polls.

According to provincial legislation, voters must head to the polls before Aug. 19 — one year since Furey was sworn in after being elected leader of the governing minority Liberals, replacing Dwight Ball.

The task force is due to submit a preliminary report in February, and a spokeswoman for Furey said it will be made public. Opposition parties, however, are bracing for the premier to call an election as early as next week.

“There have been persistent, credible rumours that the election call could come as early as next Friday," said Opposition leader Ches Crosbie in an emailed statement Friday. "We are operating under the assumption that an election is imminent.”

A spokesperson for Furey's office did not say whether an election call would wait until after the report is released.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 8, 2021.

The Canadian Press