In the flurry of news about our MP resigning from Parliament because of all the money he shouldn’t have gotten and spent during the campaign that sent him to Ottawa, I must have missed when the prime minister dropped the writ for a Labrador byelection.
Clearly the date has been decided, but it remains publicly elusive. Ex-Conservative cabinet minister Peter Penashue, at any rate, knows it. He lost no time after announcing he would seek re-election before starting his re-election campaign. Penashue has been buying full-page newspaper ads to tout his achievements, and he opened a sparkling new website to ask for financial donations.
If the website is anything to go by, Labrador’s voters are already getting Conservative campaign workers knocking at their doors. The website leaves no doubt that the byelection has started and Penashue’s erstwhile supporters can use it not only to sign up to be one of those workers, but they can also arrange to get lawn signs and even register as committed voters: full names, addresses and telephone numbers required.
The link under the big red button marked “Donate Now” takes the browser away from a photo of a serious Peter Penashue in front of a gloomy shoreline and presents an almost-smiling Stephen Harper, his gaze averted, striding out of an early fall forest — which suggests the money will safely bypass the local candidate and go straight to the prime minister.
Since the byelection is underway with Penashue as the only unofficially official candidate so far (the only other candidate to date hasn’t yet caught up and is still officially unofficial), that means Penashue is all alone on the hustings and for now must campaign on his record all by himself.
With no opponents for the Conservatives to slag, for now the debate is on merits alone.
It’s those that Penashue has itemized in print and in pixels. He lays claim to six achievements as MP, examples of what he calls “Delivering for Labrador.” He takes credit for stringing fibre-optic lines into the region, for paving the Trans-Labrador Highway and for getting new dams built on the Churchill River. He points out that he supports people who hunt seals and polar bears and that he was also involved in erasing the registry of long guns.
However, Penashue might be selling himself short. He doesn’t mention how well he did at his job as minister for Intergovernmental Affairs where he presented medals and announced funding on behalf of other cabinet ministers. Oddly, those announcements always seemed to bring him east, most often to Newfoundland and Labrador where, last summer and fall alone, he gave millions of other departments’ dollars to universities, corporations, memorial projects and some arts groups.
These announcements petered out (so to speak) when Penashue’s campaign overspending (and related topics) became big nationwide news, leading to his frequently demanded, but long belated, resignation. It turns out he had one last thing to do before leaving Ottawa (perhaps for good) and that was to make sure he’d have a fast Internet connection waiting for him at home in Sheshatshiu — or at least the promise of it.
Talk from an anonymous Conservative Party source (officially
or unofficially leaked) says the Labrador byelection could happen as early as mid-May, which would likely be before Penashue can reasonably get cleared of any wrong-doing by Elections Canada, if that’s at all possible. That means when voters ask him if he cheated during the last election, as the incumbent he defeated has accused, he can keep blaming his one-time agent for all the mistakes.
Unfortunately, there’s a bigger issue here than the re-election of one nearly disgraced politician. What’s more important is how, once again, the Conservative party under Stephen Harper is using every available subterfuge to undermine the Canadian electoral system. Instead of answering numerous accusations of malfeasance, they hide from them with more electioneering trickery, hoping to get the vote out of the way before the whole truth emerges. They’ll do whatever they can to hold onto Labrador, short of … well, that remains to be seen.
Essentially, a single byelection isn’t enough. It’s time for Stephen Harper himself to seek a new mandate, to call for a general election.
Michael Johansen is a writer
living in Labrador.