N.L. leaders to square off tonight in first TV debate of provincial election

Leaders of Newfoundland and Labrador’s three elected parties will square off tonight in the first televised political debate of the province’s election campaign.

Liberal Premier Dwight Ball will debate Tory Leader Ches Crosbie – his closest rival in the May 16 vote, according to recent polls – and NDP Leader Alison Coffin.

A public debate hosted by the Newfoundland and Labrador Federation of Labour Tuesday night saw the leaders field questions on health-care spending, labour standards, gender equality and tackling climate change.

Ball touted his government’s achievements and promised continued progress while trading barbs with Crosbie over each party’s track record and proposals.

Coffin proposed policies including increasing the minimum wage and hiring more health-care workers.

Graydon Pelley of the NL Alliance, a new party on the ballot in nine ridings this spring, spoke about bringing political discussions to everyday people and changing the “adversarial style” of politics.

Wednesday’s debate, organized by various media outlets, doesn’t include the NL Alliance, and the party accused organizers of “silencing” it, and calling the lack of invitation a “blemish on democracy” in the province.

The party said it plans to release video statements on social media responding to questions at Wednesday’s debate.

Ball’s Liberal government took power in 2015 as frustrated voters booted the long-ruling Tories from power but the Liberals have had a rough ride facing down a bleak financial future since then.

The government has tried to get its finances back on track following years of heavy deficits and concern over health care costs, outmigration and a rapidly aging population.

The standings at the dissolution of the legislature were 27 Liberals, eight Tories, two NDP and three independent members.

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