The real winner in the Labrador federal byelection was the triumph of democracy over cynicism.
The cynicism that says vote for me or you will be punished; vote for me or you will forfeit investments for your communities; vote for me and ignore my history of broken election laws; vote for me because you will get a warm body at Stephen Harper’s cabinet.
Despite the pressure to do otherwise, nearly 70 per cent of Labradorians rejected the politics of cynicism and fear.
Some were swayed by the arguments, and it isn’t difficult to understand why.
Fear has always been a driving force in politics, especially with this federal Conservative government.
Certainly, fear and division have factored largely into Stephen Harper’s electoral strategy and governing style.
This is not to take away from Yvonne Jones’ resounding victory. Indeed, it is to reinforce her victory.
She effectively articulated why the people of Labrador deserved better representation than they were getting from former Harper cabinet minister, Peter Penashue.
Ms. Jones also proved why she has survived in politics for so long. She is tough and she is also a great campaigner.
She and the NDP candidate Harry Borlase, who has a bright future in politics if he chooses to take that path, urged Labradorians to reject the politics of fear and quid pro quo and to vote for better representation.
And they did so in solid record numbers.
Highest voter turnout since 1995
According to a report in The Hill Times, last week’s Labrador byelection saw the highest voter turnout, 59.6 per cent, than in any of 47 byelections held since 1995. A small victory for democracy.
Despite his third place result, Mr. Borlase managed to increase the NDP vote in the traditionally Liberal riding of Labrador.
According to Sun News journalist David Akin, who crunched the numbers and shared them on Twitter, the NDP result in the byelection represented a 77 per cent increase over the party’s average performance in the five elections between 2004 and 2011.
Of course there were many, many other factors at play in this byelection, including an extremely unpopular prime minister and federal government as well as a candidate who broke a multitude of election laws in the 2011 general election.
Despite those negatives, Mr. Penashue garnered 32 per cent of the vote.
Yet, Mr. Penashue, proved in defeat, why he deserved to lose this election.
Asked about his electoral loss, he responded: “People have to live with the decisions that they’ve made. The offer was a cabinet table and people chose to be in the Opposition. Labrador lost, in my view.”
Yes the people chose. And the majority of Labradorians spoke clearly about what they didn’t want and what they did.
Despite his disastrous and short history, including thousands of dollars in illegal donations and the utterance of a mere 977 words in the House of Commons in all of 2012 (the third fewest words of all sitting MPs), Mr. Penashue expected voters to forgive and forget.
He never did apologize for breaking election laws, choosing instead to blame it on a campaign worker.
He bragged about, as a cabinet minister, withholding approval for projects for the island part of the province until a project in his riding got the nod.
Not once did Mr. Penashue take responsibility for his actions, even on election night he blamed the CBC and others for his woes.
Another of Mr. Penashue’s real problems was his lack of authenticity as a politician.
He was painfully uncomfortable delivering his coached message lines from the Harper Conservative spin-doctors. He was not allowed to be himself, or so it appeared.
These are the same federal Conservative spin-doctors who tried to paint the Liberal victory as a loss for new leader Justin Trudeau merely because the election win — which was sizable — was not as large as polls predicted at the beginning of the race.
Graceless sore losers. They are incapable of hiding their mean streak.
One of Andrew Coyne’s latest political commentaries says it best: “Secretive, controlling, manipulative, crude, autocratic, vicious, unprincipled, untrustworthy, paranoid. … We’ve had some thuggish or dishonest governments in the past, even some corrupt ones, but never one quite so determined to arouse the public’s hostility, to so little apparent purpose.
Their policy legacy may prove short-lived, but it will be hard to erase the stamp of the Nasty Party.”
Mr. Penashue’s campaign epitomized all that is wrong with politics.
The fact that Labradorians rejected it is perhaps a sign that people want more from their politicians and their politics than this.
And that’s a very good thing.
Lana Payne is president of the
Newfoundland and Labrador Federation
of Labour. She can be reached by email