ST. JOHN’S, N.L. – The leadership of Newfoundland and Labrador’s Progressive Conservative party was going to an unexpected third ballot Saturday after neither candidate in the second round of voting won a clear majority.
After a period of confusion about what that meant, the party announced 680 votes were cast and one ballot was spoiled.
Paul Davis received 340 votes and John Ottenheimer 339, which means there was no clear majority and a third ballot was required at a convention where support for the final two candidates was evenly split.
“An absolute majority shall mean more than 50 per cent of the valid ballots cast on any particular ballot,” the party’s constitution says.
With the convention in the balance, the candidates went on TV to encourage delegates who left the convention hall to return to vote on the third ballot.
The two former cabinet ministers went head-to-head after 36-year-old Steve Kent was knocked out of the race after the first ballot.
He immediately backed Davis, 53, who he served in cabinet with until they both stepped down earlier this year to seek the leadership.
Ottenheimer, 61, left politics in 2007 due to health issues and later served as chairman of Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro.
The winner will become the province’s 12th premier and must call an election within 12 months of taking office.
The Tories have held majority power since 2003 and were a potent force under former premier Danny Williams, but they are hoping Saturday’s old-style leadership convention will help revive the party from a slump in its popularity.
Former premier Kathy Dunderdale won re-election in 2011 after Williams retired from politics but she quit in January amid questions about her leadership and after Newfoundland-wide power blackouts.
The party has lost four straight byelections — three of them in districts that were held by senior cabinet ministers, including the one held by Dunderdale.
Ottenheimer is a veteran of several cabinet portfolios and was health minister in 2005 amidst a scandal over botched breast cancer tests. He apologized for his role at that time during the second of three leadership debates.
He cast himself Saturday as “the candidate of change and the candidate of renewal.”
“To the naysayers who delight in our perceived demise I serve you notice,” he said to cheers from his supporters.
Davis, a former police officer, is also promising to rejuvenate the party.
“Don’t count us out,” he told delegates to roars and chants of “Davis!” from his camp before the first ballot.
Pundits who’ve written the party’s death warrant aren’t always right, he said. Pollsters wrongly predicted election results in B.C., Alberta, Quebec and Ontario, he said.
“And mark my words, they’ll be proven wrong again right here in Newfoundland and Labrador.”
Davis was diagnosed in 2011 with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma but has since recovered.
He said as premier he would work to ensure offshore oil wealth — $19 billion in royalties since 1997 — is better shared around the province, including a revamped fishery.