I heaved a mighty sigh of relief, on hearing that the PCs lost the by-election in The Straits White Bay North.
Ive made no secret that Im not a fan of Danny Williams or his government, and I didnt care who won Liberal or NDP as long as Dannys boy lost.
Im sure the pundits are already saying that this is no big loss for Williams, whose government still holds 42 of 48 seats in the legislature.
However, I disagree. I think this is a significant defeat, for at least two reasons.
First, its a small tear in the fabric of Williamss popularity, which is stretched thin and wide, like a membrane on a giant drum. What happens now that that fabric has started to rip? Does the premiers soft support a substantial portion of his 80-percent popularity start to rethink its loyalty?
Second, Danny threw everything he had at this contest, raising the stakes to levels unrealistic for a by-election. We saw his reversal on the cuts to Flowers Cove (and Lewisporte), and abandonment (at least temporarily) of the province-wide health services review. He attempted to create an us against them issue two days before voters went to the polls, attacking both Quebec and New Brunswick on reports that the former was buying out the latters hydro corporation but voters saw through that charade too.
We also saw a wave of Cabinet ministers actively campaigning in the district, at taxpayer expense. More cabinet ministers visited The Straits-White Bay North in one day this week than during an entire 365-day period from mid-2008 through mid-2009, reported The Telegram on October 24. On one day, no less than eight ministers were knocking on doors in the district.
In that same newspaper, an editorial pointed out that taxpayers were paying these Cabinet ministers a salary of $615 per day to campaign on behalf of their party. I understand that Liberals have been guilty of similar tactics in the past, but that doesnt make it right. It is time to ban this practice for all parties.
The premier put a lot of eggs in this by-election basket. And now hes left with egg on his face. In his craven desire to not surrender a single seat despite holding a massive majority the premier threw everything he had at this contest.
The premiers mistake was investing so much of his own credibility in the by-election. He should have kept his cool, assigned a Lieutenant to lead the charge, made an occasional visit to the district, but also carried on with the business of government, while reminding us that too much significance should not be attached to any by-election. Instead, Dannys hubris got the better of him.
The core truth is that Williams lost more credibility through his government's cynical reversal of health care cuts, than he would have in losing the by-election itself. People saw through it, and weren't afraid to say so.
Meanwhile, residents of this district watched carefully as the cuts to health services story unfolded. They saw backbench Lewisporte MHA Wade Verge come out swinging on behalf of his constituents, only to backtrack, lose his nerve and claim he was misquoted by media, after an apparent speaking to from the premier. And now, voters on the Northern Peninsula were being asked to elect another PC bobble-head, a former executive assistant who was accustomed to taking orders.
No, the people of The Straits-White Bay North realized that this government will only respond to loud, effective opposition. They rejected this governments style of politics, knowing full well it would place them in the Opposition wilderness.
Democracy is alive and well in Newfoundland and Labrador.
For more opinion and insight on the by-election outcome, check out Winston Smith, Ed Hollett, Peter Whittle and Wallace McLean.