I must say, I did not see this coming.
Craig Westcott will be the Conservative Party candidate for St. John's East in the federal election.
He is hoping to win the seat vacated by the retiring Norm Doyle.
Westcott is a seasoned local journalist, businessman and managing editor of The Business Post. He has been critical of the Williams government in the past, and is one of those journalists who is certainly not on the premier's Christmas card list.
Westcott announced his candidacy today on the CBC Radio Morning Show, followed by a news conference at 10 am at the Capital Hotel.
Westcott says the ABC campaign is what nudged him from writing about the premier to actually taking him on, after a fashion, as a federal Conservative candidate. He said the ABC campaign will have a negative impact on families, seniors and the economy.
"We have to think about what ABC really means for our province," said Westcott, in his press release. "It could mean spending four years with no voice in the Government of Canada. Do we really want an MP from another province serving as a part-time regional Minister for Newfoundland and Labrador? Isolating ourselves from the rest of Canada is not a goose egg, it's a rotten egg, and it will hurt the people of our great province."
"The Premier's admission on Friday that he would continue to rail against the Conservative government even if Newfoundlanders and Labradorians voted ABC shows this isn't really about sending a message - it's about a personal political vendetta. It's a never-ending fight, and people are getting tired of it," Westcott said.
In an interview, I put Westcott on the spot. I reminded him about his stubborn, take-no-bullshit approach to journalism, and asked what he would do if forced to accept a decision in caucus or even Cabinet that was not in this province's favour. Westcott said he has always stood firm on points of principle, and this would not change within government.
"Anyone who has ever worked with me or knows me pretty well, knows that I've always stood up, sometimes to my detriment," Westcott said. "You're either made that way or you're not. For better or for worse, I'm just made that way. I quit the best job I ever had in my life, as the Sunday Telegram editor, because they killed two columns by Ray Guy and Peter Fenwick."
Realizing that I didn't know the detail of this little-known chapter in local media history, I asked Westcott for the full story. He said it happened in 1995, when the referendum on denominational education reform was making headlines.
"At the time, Bill Barry, the fish merchant, had tried to get the Pope to intervene. Peter Fenwick wrote a column, pretending that he had intercepted an exchange of faxes between the Pope and Bill Barry. It was pretty funny for Fenwick. They killed that without even telling me. I came in on Wednesday or Thursday and they decided to kill it without telling me about it. I found out about it on Thursday, and wasn't too pleased about it.
"Then, on Friday, Ray Guy's column came in. He had a paragraph about how the Pope, during World War II, had turned a blind eye to the Holocaust. So (the editor) said, We have to kill that. It will offend too many people.' I said there was a body of historical evidence that the Pope did know about the Holocaust."
Westcott said the editor recited the old line, about not wanting to offend his 85-year-old aunt, so the column was killed.
"We had two young children and my wife was five-months pregnant at the time, but I quit anyway." he said. "I remember thinking that I didn't want to bring up children in a world where people aren't free to publish their own opinion. Career-wise, that was almost suicidal, but I just did it."
(There wasn't time for me to engage the paper's editor in this discussion, so I will not name him here. He has since retired from the paper.)
Westcott walked on a point of ethics, something he sys he would not hesitate to do again.
"If I could stand up for myself and quit the best job I ever had, with two children and a pregnant wife, I'm sure I would have no problem standing up in Ottawa and doing what's right."
Westcott said there is a "very real possibility" that the province might not send any Conservatives to Ottawa, while the prospect of Harper winning a majority government. "That's why I'm doing it," he said. "We could end up with nobody on the government side, sitting here in isolation for four years There's no positives in it for us at all."
As CBC's David Cochrane said this morning in his news item, the race for St. John's East "is about to get a whole lot more interesting." Cochrane's story also revealed that Topsail MHA Elizabeth Marshall is the only member of the provincial PC caucus who will stay neutral in the ABC campaign. People in this part of the province know that Marshall is the most talented person on the Williams team, yet is not in Cabinet because she doesn't see eye to eye with the premier. And this riding has supported Conservative Norm Doyle for 11 years. On top of that, Westcott grew up in the riding, and is well known in the community.
Will people of the Riding have the good sense to vote as they please, as they normally would, and not follow the orders of Danny Williams?
Will they have the good sense to pay no attention to this ABC campaign, which is all about emotion (and political grandstanding) but completely devoid of strategy?
I think they will. And I think Westcott is the one who can win this seat. He has my vote, but not because I know him, or because he is a journalist.
He has my vote for no other reason than I trust him to shake things up in Ottawa.
You can read more on this here and here.