The good folks of Flowers Cove and Lewisporte are close to fumbling the ball, in their dealings with the Williams Government.
Both have agreed to stand down and cease hostilities with the province, in their battle to avoid health care cuts in their communities and regions.
But is it the right thing to do?
Do the people of the Great Northern Peninsula really believe warm, fuzzy Jerome, when he says that governments sudden softening of position has nothing to do with the by-election?
The people of Flowers Cove and Lewisporte have grabbed at governments olive branch with both hands. But are they really clutching at straws?
The key point here is that government is making no promises. They say they are willing to listen, and will work with the communities to find a solution. On the news Wednesday tonight, Jerome said we would look very seriously at canceling health care cuts in Lewisporte if we can achieve some savings by reducing capital costs elsewhere.
So there you have two easy outs for government if and look seriously at which they can roll out when all this goes south.
And the next Lewisporte meeting is on Friday, October 23. The by-election takes place Tuesday, October 27. If it turns out that the devil is in the details, and the people of Lewisporte and Flowers Cove are not happy, thats not enough time to restart their campaign.
I could be wrong. But I think the residents of both communities are making a key strategic error by quieting their protests, even temporarily.
The people of Lewisporte, in particular, have paused their highly effective advertising campaign, though they continue to raise funds and will reinstitute the ads pending the outcome of talks with government.
Over the last few years, I have provided public relations services to a number of clients who had positions contrary to government, ranging from minor disputes to major conflicts.
I have observed that Danny Williams is a take no prisoners kind of negotiator. He employs aggressive tactics and approaches every dispute as some sort of battle that must be won. That might be okay with external forces who are easy to demonize, but its an issue when dealing with citizens of this province. If you find yourself on the opposite end of a negotiating table with this government, politely stated arguments will get you nowhere. If you come at them aggressively, they will pay attention with an eye to where public sympathy is leaning but they will hold firm.
However, if you wield some real strength, such as the ability to influence the outcome of a by-election, the Williams Government will fold like a Chinese laundry. Weve seen them cave in the past, but only when their opponent was holding all the cards.
(And can you believe this VOCM news story from October 10, which quotes Danny Williams saying that the by-election in the Straits-White Bay North is giving him a chance to tackle the issue in partnerships with the people. It was a PC district, for goodness sake. Is he suggesting that Trevor Taylor, after all this time, was NOT tackling these issues?)
To the people of Flowers Cove and Lewisporte, I say this: dont be fooled. Dont back down yet. Playing nice will get you nowhere. Keep up the pressure. Continue the protest. Restart the ad campaign.
Dont settle for weasel words like if and look seriously at. Insist on nothing less than a promise, in writing, guaranteeing that the cuts will not happen.
Because if you are still in negotiation mode when the by-election is over, its going to be a whole new ballgame.
And you are going to strike out.