It's been a wild 15-month political ride for John Abbott, but after a hotly contested leadership race, a nomination battle, a narrow victory in the recent provincial election, and a court challenge, he is finally the official representative of the residents of St. John's East-Quidi Vidi.
Abbott was sworn in Tuesday morning as the province's 40th MHA, and the 22nd member of the governing Liberal Party of Newfoundland and Labrador, ending weeks in the political wilderness as his close election victory worked its way through the legal process.
He sat across from Lt-.Gov. Judy Foote during a ceremony in the House of Assembly chamber Tuesday looking sharp in a blue pinstriped suit.
But in a nod to the province's dire economic situation, when he was asked about the suit, Abbott revealed that he paid $50 for the jacket and pants at a discount store, though he admitted the cufflinks, the tie "and the underwear, probably" may have cost more than the suit.
Honoured to be an MHA
It was a moment of levity for Abbott, but he said he's honoured to have been given the responsibility of representing a district that has traditionally given the cold shoulder to Liberals.
"It's been a long road, but I knew that from March 27 on we would be successful," Abbott told reporters after his swearing-in.
Following an election campaign lengthened to 10 weeks by an outbreak of the COVID-19 virus, Abbott recorded the narrowest margin of victory in all 40 districts: just 53 votes separated Abbott from incumbent Alison Coffin, leader of the Newfoundland and Labrador New Democratic Party.
Coffin contested the results, which delayed Abbott's swearing-in, but Justice Donald Burrage of the Supreme Court of Newfoundland and Labrador dismissed the case last week, saying the threshold for a judicial recount had not been met.
The court ruling opened the door for Abbott to take the oath of office on Tuesday, but the legal landscape is still cluttered by three other court challenges from Coffin and two other defeated PC candidates, Jim Lester and Sheila Fitzgerald.
They argue the election process, which saw in-person voting cancelled in favour of mail-in ballots to protect voters from the coronavirus, resulted in an election that was not accessible to all voters.
Abbott to receive retroactive salary
Abbott will be paid his MHA salary of roughly $95,000 annually retroactive to March 27, but he has not been sitting on his hands waiting to be sworn in.
Abbott was named to Premier Andrew Furey's inner circle on April 8 as the minister of children, seniors and social development. He's also the minister responsible for the status of persons with disabilities, minister responsible for the community sector and minister responsible for Newfoundland and Labrador Housing Corporation.
He said he's also been busy dealing with constituency matters in his district, where he "learned a lot and hopefully solved a few problems."
Tuesday's swearing-in was the latest chapter in an eventual foray into politics for Abbott, who previously served a long career as a senior public servant.
Abbott and Furey battled for the Liberal party leadership in a contest that dragged on for months as the province battled the pandemic in 2020, with Furey emerging as the winner last summer.
Abbott also fought a tough nomination race to secure his position on the ballot in St. John's East-Quidi Vidi.
"My life as a government official and bureaucrat taught the virtue of patience, and it's paid off," he said, adding that he hopes to serve two terms as an MHA "subject to the people's will."
Abbott served two stints as deputy minister of health, and raised eyebrows in the past with his comments about spending and other health-related matters.
Asked Tuesday about the report from the premier's economic recovery committee, Abbott said it "lays out a path forward" for a province grappling with a total public debt of more than $47 billion.
"I think we are on the road to a new Newfoundland and Labrador because of that report and mainly the resolve of the premier and the cabinet to make sure we do make a different for our period as administrators of the province," he said.
One of the recommendations of Moya Greene's report, entitled The Big Reset, is the amalgamation of the province's four health authorities, and Abbott supports that idea.
"That will be a start of how we can manage our health-care system much more cost-effectively," he said.
Greene also recommended a 25 per cent reduction in operating grants to the health authorities, and Abbott said he is anxious to see the final report of the task force on health, known as Health Accord NL.
"We have an opportunity here to make a big difference and there is opportunities to bring down the spend," he said.