When Judy Morrow, the president of the province’s Liberal party, declared in bubbly fashion that she was “thrilled” with the array of candidates that had come forth to replace Yvonne Jones, you had to wonder whether she may have sprinkled an illegal substance resembling savoury over her corn flakes that morning.
Morrow’s anonymity — she is about as familiar to Newfoundlanders as a glimpse of Avalon Peninsula sunshine — was equal to that of several of those leadership “hopefuls” (a misnomer if ever there was one) who were willing to pay a few bucks for the right to have their names mentioned in newscasts for 24 hours or so.
Rodney Martin, Ryan Lane, Charles Murphy: who wouldn’t be “thrilled” to see those names on the application form for Liberal leader? I’ll bet members of the Liberal executive charged with making the decision on Jones’ replacement must have been near ecstasy, overcome with excitement, as that trio made their respective pitches, and had to wonder why the Newfoundland Grits were being blessed by the gods of politics with such phenomenal options to lead the party into the October election.
Of course, there was also Brad Who? to thrill the executive and frighten the daylights out of the other challengers (can you just imagine the shivers of fear, as well, that crawled up the spines of Tories and NDPers everywhere knowing they might have had to face Cabana in the fall?)
There were, as we all know by now, three so-called “serious” candidates (an illustration of that axiom that everything in this world of ours is relative): Kevin Aylward, Bern Coffey and Danny Dumaresque.
Coffey was being highly touted by some media types, for reasons that remain obscure to me. Sure, Coffey did an adequate job as the chief lawyer for the Cameron Inquiry, admirable even, but nothing more, nothing less, just doing what he was paid to do. (It was the women battling cancer who left the most profound impression with the public, and deservedly so).
But one inquiry, complete with nightly clips on the supper-hour newscasts, does not a political career make, even if Coffey cockily announced on his way into the hiring board deliberations that he was in the race to be premier, not the leader of the opposition. There was almost a sense of entitlement in the air around Coffey; he is, after all, a lawyer.
But it was obvious — or should have been obvious — that this leadership competition, surely one of the briefest political contests in the history of Newfoundland, would come down to a choice between two veterans: Danny Dumaresque, a crackie who’s never seen a government ankle unworthy of a healthy chomp, and Kevin Aylward, a comparatively laid-back politician who’s never been accused of lighting the political world of Newfoundland afire (other than a few, mostly forgotten clashes with environmentalists).
And the Liberal executive decided to travel the safer route, choosing Aylward, a former cabinet minister whose main challenge now is to keep a dispirited Liberal ship afloat, and not be totally humiliated in the fall (a distant but respectable second-place finish, ahead of the NDP, would be a realistic goal at this point).
Then, Aylward would eventually make way for a so-called heavyweight, a Danny Williams-type,
to take over the leadership and bring the party back from the doldrums. At least that would be the scenario.
It did appear briefly last week that Aylward’s caretaker services would be unnecessary, that Rick Hillier — certainly one of the more popular figures from Newfoundland — might find the leadership role attractive. But the general turned the job down, probably because his ego was too massive for the position of opposition leader, that the job was beneath him, that he would have been bored out of his skull spending the next five years asking Kathy Dunderdale about the latest unemployment figures.
But the general may return for some future battle.
If there’s a honest shot at being premier, he’ll be there. Or someone else of equal stature. A messiah.
And then Judy Morrow, or whoever happens to be president of the Liberal party at the time, can honesty say she or he is “thrilled.”
Bob Wakeham has spent more than 30 years as a journalist in Newfoundland and Labrador. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.