I didn’t attend the Progressive Conservative convention here in Gander last weekend, so I’m not in a position to comment on what transpired inside, but from my vantage point outside I got the feeling that attendance may have been down slightly from the previous year.
I could be wrong, but there definitely didn’t seem to be quite so many vehicles in the hotel parking lot and the liquor store wasn’t chock-a-block with the usual throng of thirsty delegates stocking up for the long night ahead.
The flags weren’t exactly at half- mast around town but there wasn’t the same sense of excitement which had been the hallmark of these annual gatherings of the faithful back when the Progressive Conservative party was riding high in the polls and the then premier was the best known and most admired politician in the entire country.
But things haven’t been the same since he left so unexpectedly at the peak of his popularity. By anyone’s standards it was an almost impossible act to follow and it’s hardly surprising that, in comparison, the present incumbent just can’t seem to do anything right, no matter how hard she tries.
There are a couple of reasons for this, one of which may have something to do with why the numbers seemed to be down — if, in fact, they were, since I can’t say for sure, seeing as how I wasn’t there — at the convention this year.
Friend or foe?
In politics, nothing is ever as it seems. Temporary liaisons are formed and terminated, often with extreme prejudice, at will and as events dictate, which is why politics can make for such strange and unexpected bedfellows.
Likewise, the friends and colleagues you thought you could count on in a tight spot are now hurling abuse and throwing brickbats at you from the other side of the barricades.
Not only are the true party loyalists few and far between, they often get lost in the shuffle, overshadowed by the schemers and opportunists who somehow manage to get themselves richly rewarded for jumping on the bandwagon only after victory is assured.
Why this should be so is anyone’s guess (I mean, it’s not like you really owe them anything, is it?) but it seems to be an accepted part of the political process, helping to ensure the regular interchange of supporters (a.k.a. self-serving parasites) among the various parties depending on the ebb and flow of their individual fortunes.
On the downside, it doesn’t take long for the rats to start deserting what they perceive to be a sinking ship. The very same people who couldn’t keep their hands off the winning candidate have suddenly had a change of heart and crossed over to the enemy camp, once again, of course, with the expectation of being handsomely compensated for their treason and treachery.
Normally, however, even rats are smart enough not to jump ship without a lifeboat in sight, which makes the political context here in the province a little difficult to fathom at the moment.
Putting the bombast and rhetoric to one side, there really is no credible political alternative to the PCs right now. People may voice their displeasure with the government by expressing support for one or the other of the two opposition parties when the pollsters call, but it’s a different matter in real life when they actually have to mark their X on the ballot.
No real alternative
To even consider voting for the Liberals at this stage of the game would be irresponsible at the very least. Probably the brightest light on the horizon for the party is leadership hopeful Cathy Bennett, but it’s unlikely that the old guard will allow this young upstart to upset their apple cart. After all these years wandering in the political wilderness, they’re hungry for the perks and pork of high office, and God help anyone who dares get in their way.
As for the NDP, they’ll no doubt continue to be as annoying and tiresome as ever, but their dreams of electoral glory have turned to ashes now that the memory of Jack what’s-his-name is fading into obscurity.
The unofficial opposition
Meanwhile, it’s largely the media and its constant criticism of the premier, along with its equally single-minded and unremitting opposition to Bill 29 and Muskrat Falls, which continue to drive the Conservatives ever downwards in the public opinion polls.
Once again it’s a bit of a mystery as to why they should be quite so strident in their almost obsessive opposition to everything the government even thinks of doing. I suspect, though, that it may have something to do with the way we used to treat most of the substitute teachers unfortunate enough to find themselves standing in front of our class back in grammar school.
It didn’t matter if our victims were young or old, male or female. At the first hint of weakness we went straight for the jugular, probing for the smallest chink in their armour and torturing them unmercifully as we diligently set about bringing an end to their teaching careers once and for all.
So, too, with governments.
No government worthy of the name can afford to show the slightest sign of indecisiveness or faintheartedness. To do so is to invite disrespect, which in the political arena tends to encourage disdain, which in turn leads to contempt, then outright dissent, and so on, until it seems that despite your
best efforts, and the sincerest of intentions, the whole world hates you.
As to what, if anything, the premier and her government can do to turn this situation around, the main item of business should be to start getting the message out in no uncertain terms.
Stop pussyfooting around and tell all those so-called communications experts littering the halls of the Confederation Building to forget everything they learned at university and start communicating for a change. This is not the time for reason and restraint.
Come out with both guns blazing, don’t shoot till you see the whites of their eyes and take no prisoners.
Other than that, about all I can say to the premier is to stay the course, keep your spirits up and don’t be too disheartened with your dismal showing in the polls. The electorate’s memory is notoriously short when it comes to these sorts of things, and in politics two years is an eternity.
And the next time they’re out in Gander, I would advise the convention organizers to make sure that all the parking lots are full to overflowing. After all, that’s what politics is all about — creating impressions, whether they be the right ones, or the wrong.
Tony Collins lives and writes in Gander. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org
His column returns Oct. 12.