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Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Andrew Furey speaks during a news conference in St. John’s, on Jan. 15, 2021.Paul Daly/The Canadian Press

Newfoundland and Labrador Liberal Leader Andrew Furey is in hot water for comments in early February in defence of his decision to call a winter election in the midst of a global pandemic.

Furey told reporters on Feb. 9 that he had seen probabilistic modelling showing spikes in COVID-19 case numbers later in the year, and that informed his decision to call an election on Jan. 15.

Progressive Conservative Leader Ches Crosbie says his party requested those models through access to information legislation but was told the documents were protected by cabinet confidentiality.

During a public health briefing today, Dr. Proton Rahman said there was no predictive modelling done in advance of the election, but that he did discuss the province’s surge capacity in intensive care units with the premier before the election call.

Furey said during the briefing that in the absence of predictive models, he ran three different scenarios using publicly available data.

When asked why reporters and the Progressive Conservative party were told the modelling documents were cabinet secrets, Furey said he has no control over what gets released under access to information legislation.

“Certainly I think the public would expect that cabinet, cabinet committees would discuss our COVID readiness,” Furey said.

Crosbie accused Furey of misleading the public with his Feb. 9 comments.

“Andrew Furey said he looked at modelling ahead of the election, yet Dr. Rahman says no such models existed,” Crosbie said in a news release. “The Premier can’t seem to get his story straight.”

The Tories and NDP were critical of the provincial election timing, even before a COVID-19 outbreak swept through the St. John’s region in early February and prompted officials to call off in-person voting.

Instead, elections authorities said any remaining votes would be cast through the mail. After several extensions, the deadline for residents to return their mail-in ballots is now March 25.

Newfoundland and Labrador was the fourth province to call an election during the COVID-19 pandemic. Yukon Premier Sandy Silver called a territorial election last Friday, and he has faced similar criticism, with opponents saying he should have waited until more people had been fully vaccinated.

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