The Liberals won a big one in Cartwright-L’Anse au Clair this week. Or did they?
The party had been languishing in third place for a long time and only recent polls show any kind of change. Some people would say that change has been driven more by dissatisfaction with the governing Tories than anything good coming from the Libs.
So, was it really a big win? Certainly Liberal candidate Lisa Dempster thinks so. It was her first foray into partisan politics and her numbers were solid. She beat both the NDP and Tory candidates handily, winning 54 per cent of the vote, compared to 33 per cent for Jason Spingle and 13 per cent for Dennis Normore, respectively.
Current Liberal Leader Dwight Ball must consider it a big win as well. He’s running for the top job in the party and wants this victory viewed as a positive outcome for him and his quiet leadership style. He may be hoping that Liberals will see the party’s new standing in the polls and the byelection victory as reasons not to change horses midstream.
People outside the Liberal Party may be seeing this as a big win as well — folks like Dean MacDonald and businesswoman Cathy Bennett, both rumoured to be interested in the Liberals’ top job. Bennett would be a surprise candidate and MacDonald, who dropped the idea of running earlier in the year, would raise eyebrows if he suddenly returned to the race.
The Liberals’ fortunes appear to be turning around and that makes the prospect of being leader a lot more attractive than it was. The nominations close July 5 and it could turn into an interesting race.
But did the win in Cartwright L’Anse au Clair have anything to do with it?
It’s hard to argue the byelection victory was a big one. If anything, it went as anticipated. The Liberals have held the seat since Confederation and no one has been able to shift political allegiances there, not even the mighty Danny Williams.
For Dempster it was a big win, but for the party? Not so much. There were no real surprises, except perhaps for the NDP vote, which rose dramatically from the almost always dismal results of past elections.
Its unusual to see two parties claim victory in a byelection, but the Liberals and the NDP are doing just that. Spingle tallied up 703 votes, an unheard of level of support for the NDP in the district. In the general election of 2011, the party got 44 votes. Spingle is calling it a “moral victory” for his party. NDP Leader Lorraine Michael, while not claiming it as a win, has to see it as a harbinger of things to come. Her message to rank-and-file New Democrats will be the same as Ball’s message to the Liberals. “Let’s not change a thing!”
The one group downplaying the byelection is the Progressive Conservative party. Premier Kathy Dunderdale expressed no surprise at the outcome and pointed to dissatisfaction with the budget for her party’s dismal showing.
“Some difficult decisions were made, and while those decisions were the best ones for the future of the province, we recognize that until people see the full positive effect of these efforts, people will express their discontent,” she said.
The premier’s comments were surprising. The government is saying that the decisions they’ve made are making them unpopular, which is true, but that it will all change when people see the “full positive effect” of those decisions. And just when will that be?
Doing the things people don’t want done and claiming some moral high ground to justify it, and then hoping that everyone will suddenly come to their senses at some point and agree with you, is a high-risk strategy. Discontented people have a tendency to cast off the symbols of their discontent, and unlike her colleagues in the other parties, the premier can’t simply say to her troops, “Let’s not change a thing.”
Randy Simms is a political commentator and broadcaster. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org