After months of infighting and some passive-aggressive backstabbing, Liberal Leader Stephen McNeil came out on top this weekend.

And he made sure his opponents knew it.

“This issue is behind us and we as a party need not talk about it again,” McNeil told a cheering crowd Saturday after winning 83 per cent approval in a leadership review the party’s annual general meeting in Antigonish.

McNeil had to fight for that support against a rival camp of Liberals hoping for his ousting. There were also much-publicized anonymous emails and websites belittling him.

But on Saturday McNeil was emboldened. He told reporters he was humbled by the great support and “thrilled that the party has overwhelmingly endorsed my leadership.”

If any Liberals disagreed, they weren’t saying so publicly.

MLAs Diana Whalen, Michel Samson and Wayne Gaudet wouldn’t endorse McNeil in the run-up to the vote, saying it would be inappropriate to influence rank and file members.

They still wouldn’t say how they voted after the results were in.

“I just think that that is the position I’ve taken and that’s the position I’ll stay with,” said Whalen, whose assistant had been tied to an anonymous anti-McNeil email.

“But I’m very pleased with the results. I believe it’s a great thing for the party and for the people.”

New party president John Gillis said the leadership questions had been hard on McNeil and emphasized the party can now look ahead to upcoming races.

“Caucus members are free to think what they want, say what they want, but the party’s 100 per cent behind Stephen,” Gillis proclaimed.

In a lively victory speech McNeil also had jabs for the NDP — “They were so anxious to become a government they forgot there was a responsibility with that task” — and the Tories — “They don’t even have anyone who’s interested in leading their party at this point.”

The party must now focus on winning two upcoming byelections in Glace Bay and Yarmouth.

Results to ballot question “Do you support Stephen McNeil as the Leader of the Nova Scotia Liberal Party?”
• Yes – 1,982 (83 per cent)
• No – 373 (16 per cent)
• Spoiled – 20 (one per cent)
• Total ballots cast: 2,375