Political fight night

Bob Wakeham
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All those mugshots on the front page of last Monday’s Telegram — 30 smiling faces in all, candidates in the six federal ridings on the island and one in Labrador — resembled the kind of image you’d find in a high school year book (the 2011 political posers having outgrown their acne pimples, of course, but still displaying that teenaged look of eternal optimism, the gaze that says anything’s possible).

And — not unlike snapshots of graduating high schoolers — the photos of Newfoundland’s potential MPs hardly tell the whole story, the frozen smiles belying the fact that most of those men and women are going to be flushed down the sewer of defeat Monday night.

No doubt, a fair number will be unsurprised by the verdict, especially those who never amounted to much more a token name on a ballot or pragmatists who, right from the get-go, accepted the fact that their 14-hour days of  kissing babies and asses would be for naught.

But there are others with a healthy level of hypnotic and partisan Kool-Aid in their systems who will be shocked out of their socks with the realization that the voters felt their pitch was garbage (despite the polite “yes, b’y, you’ve got my vote” at just about every knocked door), that the political lotto — complete with an obnoxiously big salary and a ludicrously fat pension plan — had been won by someone else.

There may even be a self-pitying moment or two, a few beer tears, in the wee hours of Tuesday morning.

Stories galore

Still in all, there are a few half-intriguing storylines among those 30 faces to yak about over Tim’s coffee and bagels long after we’ve gotten our brief splash of television fame (the country will pay undivided attention to this neck of the woods for about a half hour on the television networks because of the time difference, and then greybeards Peter, Lloyd and company will desert us after serving up the usual dose of comments about the colour and quaintness of Newfoundland politics).

And that’s not to say many of us won’t continue to pay attention as the Nation Canuck makes its mark: there’ll be a final, ballot box assessment that will probably overlook Stephen Harper’s patently orchestrated campaign, one that made a mockery of media access — and, by extension — public accountability; the voters will confirm, as well, that you can have all the smarts in the world, as does Michael Ignatieff, but when the IQ is compromised by a birch junk charisma, you’ve had it; and we’ll find out whether Jack Layton’s late surge will award him a critical role in Parliament and prompt Canadians — many of whom seem to hold their noses as they opt for the two traditional parties — to finally contemplate that an NDP government at some future date is worth at least a shot.

Then there’s the Bloc Quebecois and the Green Party who… ah, I’ll leave that punditry to dedicated separatists and strident environmentalists.   

But, when it’s all said and done, it’s the locals, the grinning politicos reflected in those Monday snapshots, who’ll obviously capture most of our attention.  

Local luminaries

There’s Fabian Manning, the sweet-talker with the brogue, a polarizing politician who left his seat in the Senate of Uselessness and decided his job as Stephen Harper’s primary arse-protector (or arse-kisser, take your pick) in Newfoundland should at least have the official backing of the voters in the riding of Avalon. If his tough-to-swallow Harper pitch proves fruitless — and he certainly appears to have a real battle on his hands — that fresh opening in the Senate might be filled as quick as a ram’s nod by you-know-who.            

Then we have St. John’s South-Mount Pearl where some heavy hitters have been slugging it out in what the polls are telling us is a close race between Siobhan Coady (Kathy Dunderdale’s campaign buddy in the last federal election) and Ryan Cleary (the man who doesn’t know whether he wants to be a journalist or a politician when he grows up).

And trailing the frontrunners down the backstretch is the Southern Shore warhorse, Loyola Sullivan, fresh from his own patronage posting (I’m sure Loyola can depend on another fisheries ambassador-type plum if he winds up in the electoral crapper Monday night).


And, of course, there are other former provincial MHAs who’ve come out of the post-Daniel woodwork: John Ottenheimer trying to oust incumbent Judy Foote, a one-time Newfoundland legislator herself, as well as a flack in the ’90s (Hey, Jude, it seems like just yesterday you were spinning the Clyde Wells epistle); and Trevor Taylor, looking to shut down the ultimate open-line show motor-mouth, Gerry Byrne.    

There’s also the riding in which I rest my humble head, St. John’s East, where there’s Jack Harris and… well, there’s Jack Harris, the best premier Newfoundland never had, as he was once described by one of his disciples.  

And over there in central Newfoundland, where I came into the world once upon a long time ago, there’s Scott Simms, the Liberal incumbent and former weatherman who’s providing incentive and hero worship for other television forecasters: how about Sharon Snow and Ryan Snoddon in some future election going head to head over the highs and lows approaching the province?    

Finally, there’s Todd Russell, the former head of the Metis, and Peter Penashue, the former head of the Innu, vying for the hearts of all Labradorians.

Overall, not a bad buffet for political animals Monday night. 

Bob Wakeham has spent more than 30 years as a journalist in Newfoundland and Labrador. He can be reached by email at bwakeham@nl.rogers.com.

Organizations: Kool-Aid, Bloc Quebecois, Green Party

Geographic location: Newfoundland and Labrador, Nation Canuck, Avalon

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