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Liberals under fire from unions heading into N.L. Federation of Labour debate

Click to play video: 'Critics question timing of N.L. election call' Critics question timing of N.L. election call
Newfoundland and Labrador Liberal leader Andrew Furey, is facing criticism after calling an early provincial election for February 13. As Ross Lord explains, critics suspect the incumbent Liberals have something to hide. – Jan 23, 2021

Two of Newfoundland and Labrador’s biggest unions are taking aim at the provincial Liberals ahead of a Tuesday night debate hosted by the provincial federation of labour.

On Tuesday, the Canadian Union of Public Employees accused Liberal Leader and incumbent Premier Andrew Furey of dodging questions from workers by not attending the debate himself.

The union also joined the call for Furey to release a controversial economic recovery report before voters head to the polls on Feb. 13.

“Voters should know what is in the premier’s economic recovery plan before they decide how to cast their vote in the upcoming provincial election,” union president Sherry Hillier said in a news release.

Read more: Bankruptcies and bailouts: What will Newfoundland and Labrador do about its finances?

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On Monday, the Newfoundland and Labrador Association of Public and Private Employees released an ad featuring narration from actor Gordon Pinsent and calling for public solidarity with front-line workers in the face of speculation about widespread privatization and public-sector cuts.

“We called them heroes,” Pinsent’s warm, gravelly voice intones as a woman bangs a pot with a spoon, just as people across the country did in support of workers when the COVID-19 pandemic surged last spring.

The unions have been up in arms since Newfoundland and Labrador Federation of Labour president Mary Shortall quit Furey’s economic recovery team last month, citing a lack of transparency and a “top-down” approach.

Click to play video: 'Critics question timing of N.L. election call' Critics question timing of N.L. election call
Critics question timing of N.L. election call – Jan 23, 2021

The team is chaired by Moya Greene, a St. John’s-born businesswoman known for privatizing Britain’s Royal Mail postal service. Shortall said she couldn’t provide details of the team’s discussions because members had to sign a non-disclosure agreement.

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Speculation about upcoming austerity measures and public-sector layoffs has been swirling since, but Furey has said repeatedly that neither is on the table.

Furey will not attend Tuesday night’s debate at the federation of labour, with deputy premier Siobhan Coady attending in his place. A Furey spokesperson said last week his travel schedule conflicted with the event.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 2, 2021.

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