One of the moments that helped define my understanding of politics and politicians — and it came back to me in a flash last week while listening to Tom Osborne’s rationale for jumping aboard the Expedient Ship Liberal — occurred way back in 1979 during the Tory leadership convention.
It was prior to the most crucial vote of the evening (the third, as I recall) and Jim Morgan, one of the candidates still left on the ballot, had to decide whether he would throw his support, and that of his handful of important delegates, behind either Brian Peckford or Bill Doody, the two front-runners.
Morgan was like a human wishbone as John Lundrigan, Doody’s corner boy on the convention floor, held one of his arms, and Bill Marshall, Peckford’s heavy-hitter, held the other.
Both were pleading with Morgan to pitch a tent in their respective camp, letting him know in unambiguous language that his next move could dictate whether he would be standing alongside the new Tory leader later that evening on the convention stage, a politically advantageous position in which to be.
Morgan’s decision-making pro-cess had shag-all to do with ideology at this point — Peckford could have been a child molester, Doody a serial killer, for all Morgan cared — he just wanted to make sure he dragged his few delegates and himself across the floor to the person who would win the convention.
I was standing a foot away from Morgan, Lundrigan and Marshall, as the man of the moment looked at the standings written on a chalkboard high above the convention floor, then down at calculations he had made on a piece of paper in his hands, and uttered his rather shallow and expedient philosophy with a short burst of words: “I gotta pick a winner,” he said excitedly. “I gotta pick a winner.”
After all, his political future
was banking on the call. Choose
the winner and be rewarded with
a prominent cabinet position; choose the loser and have the winner stick you on the backbenches of anonymity for eternity.
But Morgan won his own private lottery that night, turning to Lundrigan, and saying, simply enough: “Sorry, John. I’m going with Brian.” He then walked right behind Marshall (an appropriate spot, close to Marshall’s rear end, I thought at the time) and made his way across the floor to shake hands with Peckford, praying he had “picked a winner.” Which, of course, it turned out he had.
So, when Tom Osborne tried to convince the province the other day that “ideologically, philosophically and politically,” the Liberal party, not the NDP, was for him, I thought to myself that those first two words were absolutely disingenuous. This was all a political move, period.
Osborne knew full well a year ago when he decided to sit as an independent (a move of sookiness, according to angry Tories at the time, after Kathy Dunderdale wouldn’t bring him back to the cabinet) just what the ideologies were of the Liberals and the NDP. It ain’t rocket science. Osborne just needed the 12 months to determine the way the political winds, the electoral winds, were blowing, which party might have the better chance (in his estimation) of knocking Kathy’s clowns out of the three-ring circus in which they’ve been performing the past couple of years.
Like Jim Morgan over 30 years ago, Tommy boy had to “pick a winner.” So all this rhetoric about ideology and philosophy is pure crap.
Osborne obviously concluded that the Liberals have a better chance of winning the next election than do the NDP, despite the fact that the NDP has been a consistent leader in recent polls. He’s either convinced himself, or been convinced by one of his “handlers,” that the favourable NDP showing is some sort of aberration, that its lead in the polls won’t be reflected on election day. If someone had been able to talk Osborne into believing the NDP is for real this time around, that it could form the government, he would have been begging Lorraine Michael for a spot in her party.
Chances are he won’t have to fight a nomination battle in his district, that the Liberal backroom boys and girls will allow him to circumvent that democratic inconvenience.
And if the Liberals do form the government — an outcome for which Osborne will be seeking divine intervention — Tommy boy will find himself in the front row of the legislature, enjoying a hefty cabinet minister’s salary, the equivalent of 30 pieces of silver.
However, before any of that is even on the radar, Osborne will have a critical move to make during the Liberal leadership contest. It may even occur on the convention floor, à la Jim Morgan.
Who will he side with? He’s “gotta pick a winner.”
Good luck with that, Tom. We’ll all be watching your ideology and philosophy at play.
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.