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Changing fortunes for Liberals and NDP

As regular readers know, this blog has been in hiatus for quite a few months.

And what a time it’s been. I don’t think I’ve ever seen such turbulent, weird and exciting goings-on in all the years I’ve been watching Newfoundland and Labrador politics.

A surprising number of people have been asking for my take, insisting that I blog about it. The most common question: ‘What do you think about this Frank Coleman stuff?’

Truth is, I’m bursting with things I want to say; so much so that I need to break it into two parts. Fasten your seat belts. Let’s do this thing, starting with the latest news about the NDP.

By supporting Lorraine Michael in the leadership review, the party has made a fatal error. Everyone, with the possible exception of diehard NDP insiders, knows that the party will not be a factor in the next election.

The problem, of course, is that meltdown the party suffered last October. The caucus rebellion seemed to express how many were feeling, as the letter was signed by Dale Kirby, Chris Mitchelmore, George Murphy and Gerry Rogers. And yes, it was unprofessional and inconsiderate to notify Michael in that way – such grievances should be dealt with face-to-face and behind closed doors.

That said, the much larger tactical blunder was committed by Michael herself, when news of the letter leaked. Upon being approached by media, she should have said ‘yes, I am dealing with some discontent within the caucus – these things happen from time to time – but I will meet with them first and work this through before making any public comment.’

Yes, the speculation would have continued. But it would have died down if, after the meeting, Michael was able to stand with her caucus to announce a resolution. (Frankly, she would still have had no choice but to announce a leadership review as it was evident that caucus support was gone, but this outcome would have been healthier for the party than what actually transpired.)

Instead, we had Michael complaining about how disappointed and hurt she was that her caucus would express such sentiments in a letter, and while she was away on vacation. It caused a week and more of public bloodletting, highlighted by George Murphy crying on live radio – claiming that he didn’t understand what he was signing – and the rupture of the NDP caucus, with the departure of Kirby and Mitchelmore. Many key behind-the-scenes NDP supporters and organizers also abandoned the party at that point.

Michael didn’t have to go public with her hurt feelings. In doing so, she put her own interests ahead of the well-being of her party, causing damage that will take years to repair and overcome. Reality check: no individual is more important than the party. Which is why I say the NDP will not be a factor in the next election – the leader who is ultimately at fault for this fiasco is now saying “we’re new, we’re moving forward” while the rest of the electorate, including many disaffected NDP supporters, have moved on.

And I don’t relish saying that because I like Lorraine Michael. Always did. But she made a big mistake in how she handled this caucus revolt, which calls into question her fitness for the role of premier.

Yes, the 2015 election will be a battle between the Liberals and PCs, and much of the NDP’s soft support is going to dissipate to these parties. I predict the NDP will make no gains in 2015 and will lose seats in their castle keep of St. John’s. George Murphy in particular has got a fight on his hands, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the party is wiped off the map this time around.

I expect the quarterly polls are going to reveal that the NDP is mired in third place into 2015, so you just may see a surprise resignation and rushed convention before the next election.

The Liberals, on the other hand, have had a great year. For the most part, good fortune has been landing in Dwight Ball’s lap, who has been offering safe haven – and the best chances for re-election – to floor-crossing NDP and PC MHAs.

Ball is a likeable, respectable guy with no political baggage. He’s smart, well-spoken and successful in business. He was solid but did not come across as dynamic during the Liberal leadership race, though he has settled comfortably into the Opposition leader’s role. And now, he is looking positively charismatic compared to the quiet, reclusive Frank Coleman (more on him later).

Ball’s most notable mistake in my view was to eagerly accept floor-crossing MHA Paul Lane. You really can’t go overnight from biggest supporter of Dunderdale and her policies – and loudest critic of the Liberals – to, well, the polar opposite. This was a jarring change that astonished everyone. At the very least, Ball should have ordered Lane to sit in purgatory for a while – as Osbourne, Kirby and Mitchelmore did – before accepting him into the fold.

That said, Lane’s partisan flip-flop is already disappearing in the rear-view mirror, and probably won’t be a factor outside of Mount Pearl South in the next election (Lane’s seat in that district is by no means a sure thing).

Finally, the election of Cathy Bennett – in the former premier’s own district, no less – was another feather in the Liberals’ cap. She could have easily retreated back into her business after the failed leadership bid, but Bennett stuck with the new leader and the party and worked hard to win that seat. Good on her, I say.

Much has been made of the fact that Bennett donated $6400 to the PCs and just $500 to the Liberals, and sat on Nalcor’s Board of Directors. Does that mean that she’s a PC in a red Liberal cloak, a possible mole for the PCs and even – as some have suggested – a puppet for Danny Williams?

Anything is possible, I suppose, but this one is a bit of a stretch. It’s possible that she was indeed a PC supporter but saw the writing on the wall for that party and decided that this would be an opportune time to join the ascending Liberals. But that’s not exactly a unique situation in provincial politics, where the actual ideological differences between the parties can be difficult to discern (yes, including the NDP, who have advocated for elimination of the small business tax, not a typical left-leaning policy position). 

And what, then, about the meteoric crash of PC Party fortunes? Stay tuned for part 2…

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Recent comments

  • Lori-Ann Campbell
    May 22, 2014 - 20:14

    Great commentary. Its time for someone with an education beyond 1981 to lead