Byelections, either of the national or provincial variety, are for the most part political plays that follow similar scripts.
To state the obvious: they usually take place when an MP or MHA resigns of his or her own volition, perhaps for nothing more startling than finally getting sick and tired of years of plastic smiles, robotic thinking and an elastic conscience, or is forced to vacate a seat after being caught in a self-setting snare of scandal (caught being the operative word here) and are put out to pasture to graze in shame and oblivion.
Members of the media, always desperate to generate interest in what they consider to be their thought-provoking output (I’ve been there, done that), will then advertise the byelection as being some sort of mid-term test of a government’s status with its constituents.
And that’s the way byelections invariably make their way down the political pipeline.
Then there’s that byelection taking place this Monday in Labrador, a trip to the polls provoked by a set of unique (OK, weird) circumstances, the likes of which I can’t ever recall witnessing during my time of being forced by profession to observe such matters.
There’s no need to rehash all the ins and outs of the pathetic saga of Peter Penashue; suffice to say he’s become a national Newfie joke, quitting his job because of highly questionable spending habits in the last federal election, and then, turning his back on principle, dignity and logic, deciding he was just the bucko to return to that very same seat.
In the process, he’s making it sound, or at least trying to make it sound, as if this very odd move was the very height of propriety, an honest, fair and, yes, laudable attempt to clean up a self-made mess.
Penashue, once a highly respected aboriginal leader, has become a poster boy for political shenanigans, a graphic illustration of why it is that politicians are held in such disdain (right up there with the likes of lawyers and insurance salesmen and public relations flacks, and, yes, those making a living in the racket with which I’ve been associated for longer than I wish to recall).
But when all is said and done, he’ll still be there in 48 hours or so, a name on the ballot along with Yvonne Jones, the scrappy and high-profiled former MHA, and a near-anonymous fella (he’s Harry Borlase, in case his name has slipped your mind, an NDP asterisk in this byelection).
Now I might be wrong, I have been before, but I’d be shocked if Penashue doesn’t wind up on the political mat Monday night, knocked senseless by Jones in the early rounds.
And for several reasons: unless the people of Labrador are smoking a strange drug that messes with their memory neurons, they’ll realize as they enter the voting booth that Penashue deserves anything but a second chance, no matter what kind of self-delusional spin he has attempted to place on his election spending habits.
They’ll see that he never was a beacon of shining light in the Harper cabinet even before running head long into the charges of unscrupulously turning over a few sods on what was supposed to be a level playing field, and that he earned the reputation of being the ultimate “yes” man.
Add to the equation the fact that Jones has, other than a hiccup or two, a relatively respectable track record.
She is looked upon generally as a force to be reckoned with, someone who would make a splash in Ottawa, the same way she did in St. John’s, the kind of saucy politician created and ordained for opposition benches.
With all that, you’ve got the recipe for a big Liberal win (it doesn’t hurt that the riding voters have been drinking Liberal Kool-Aid for decades).
And, as I’ve implied, don’t expect the NDP to make inroads Monday. It might be a different story in the eventual provincial byelection to fill Jones’ seat, but the NDPers will be also-rans this time around in Labrador.
Also for note: pundits or so-called pundits trying to sell Monday’s results as a test of any of the parties’ Canada-wide popularity, or lack there of, will really be stretching for a national angle.
If Jones emerges as the new Labrador MP, it will be neither a condemnation of the Harper government nor an endorsement of Pierre Trudeau’s son, pretty boy Justin, and it won’t be a blow to the national credibility of the NDP. (Now those in desperate search for a national slant might want to do something with the fact that Justin, Jones’ new boss, has a half-sister, Sarah, who was born in Newfoundland, the offspring of Pierre Trudeau and Deborah Coyne; that’s not my bag, though, because pointing out the Liberal leader’s stepsister is a half-Newf would be in such bad taste, real cheap tabloid stuff, and I refuse to go there, refuse to even drop hints in that direction.)
So, when all is said and done, this is really about one of the most bizarre, ill-advised, foolish attempted comebacks in recent Newfoundland political history, and has little or nothing to do with the goings-on in Ottawa.
Now, if you happen to be cheering for Jones or the NDPer Borlase, just keep in mind that a loss for Penashue could mean that Peter MacKay, the grand champion of search and rescue capability in Newfoundland, the man who loves to be flown by government helicopters from the Gander River after a couple days of salmon angling, might be Newfoundland’s next representative in the federal cabinet.
The man from Nova Scotia might be our man for Newfoundland. We can’t win.
Bob Wakeham has spent more than 40 years as a journalist in Newfoundland and Labrador. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.