ST. JOHN’S, N.L. — Newfoundland and Labrador’s Progressive Conservatives broke a deadlock Saturday night by selecting a former police officer to be the province’s next premier after an extraordinary leadership convention that saw Paul Davis win two ballots before he was declared the victor.
The convention in St. John’s went to a surprise third ballot when the party said neither Davis or John Ottenheimer had won a clear majority of the votes cast on the second ballot.
Davis won the third ballot with 351 votes to Ottenheimer’s 326.
On the second ballot, Davis received 340 votes and Ottenheimer 339, with one spoiled ballot. The party determined a clear majority of the votes cast hadn’t been achieved by either candidate.
That left the two camps scrambling to find delegates who had already left the convention to get them to return to vote again.
Steve Kent, 36, was knocked out of the race after the first ballot, but backed Davis, his former cabinet colleague.
The outcome of the second ballot on was the latest odd twist in the party’s attempt to find a new leader to replace former premier Kathy Dunderdale.
A leadership convention scheduled for earlier this summer was cancelled when businessman Frank Coleman unexpectedly quit for unspecified family reasons. He was the only candidate left in the race after the party disqualified one challenger and the other contender dropped out.
Davis will become the province’s 12th premier and must call an election within 12 months of taking office.
Ottenheimer, 61, left politics in 2007 due to health issues and later served as chairman of Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro.
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.
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.
Davis, 53, who was a member of the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary before getting into politics, is 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.