Leadership race more like a crawl

Gerry Phelan
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It’s been like watching paint dry. Unless you were one of the candidates or an ardent supporter, the provincial Liberal leadership race has been far from must-see TV.

I’m not sure if it’s because most of the campaign was carried out over the summer, but I’ve found it difficult to give it much attention.

My bad. There’s a huge possibility that the person the 37,000 eligible voters will elect this weekend will be the next premier of our province. I should want to know more about the candidates and what they stand for. It certainly isn’t as if they didn’t at least try to get my attention, some of them anyway.

Paul Antle must have spent a fortune on this campaign. If nothing else, I now know what he looks like. His face has been plastered across the television screen almost daily for months.

Cathy Bennett has done likewise.

These two candidates, who didn’t have the political profile of the other three in the running, are now household names.

Dwight Ball and Jim Bennett have the good fortune to already be in office, and their voices and pictures were already pretty well known. The same for Danny Dumaresque, a former MHA who  — even when not seeking office — speaks out on issues he holds dear.

I’ve covered numerous leadership battles dating back to the late ’70s, but something is missing from this one. I’ve watched and listened to the debates, read the campaign websites and yes, answered a few of the robocalls. The campaign has been tame and polite and maybe that’s why I don’t sense the fire in the belly, the excitement of the political process.

Political scientists often note the bump in the polls that can come after a leadership race. The Liberals are already on top, but it could be a long two years until the next election. I’m not sure the party used the contest to its fullest benefit.  

Mind you, it’s difficult to question the engagement of 37,000 people, especially if the party can convince the newest members and supporters to continue the march to 2015. The apparently clean campaigns of the five leadership hopefuls may allow them to escape the bitter fallout of the Roger Grimes/John Efford/Paul Dicks battle of 2001.

Don’t get me wrong; there have been some mumblings of discontent. I’ve been privy to several conversations questioning Cathy Bennett’s political leanings, mostly because of her stance on Muskrat Falls, but she’s done her best to explain her position. If she wins on Sunday, it will be interesting to see if the political gossipers crawl back into their shells, or try to divide the party.   

Ball has the support of elected Liberal MHAs, except the one who also wants the job. Ball has some obvious political strengths, but does he have what it takes to win the province?

Antle, according to a late-October MQO Research survey for NTV News, was the candidate those polled said would make the best premier, compared with Kathy Dunderdale and Lorraine Michael. Those two may not even be on the ballot in 2015, but Antle does bring new energy and determination to the table.  

For Jim Bennett and  Dumaresque, the past few months have not been a waste. I don’t think they’ll win, but they’ve managed to keep their profiles and pitch their ideas.

Liberals will gather in St. John’s Sunday. There’ll be routine business in the morning before the online and phone voting ends at noon. Call me old-fashioned, but I would have liked the bump and grind of an all-out leadership convention, with candidates negotiating for support, and marching delegates across the floor.

We will still see and hear the announcement of the results, but it will be brief anticipation and a climax that lasts, well not long enough. It’s been like months of foreplay — perhaps too much, carried out too quietly.

Perhaps the love-making with voters will be a little more intense once the new leader is named Sunday evening.

Gerry Phelan is a journalist and former

broadcaster. He can be reached at


Organizations: NTV News

Geographic location: Muskrat Falls

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Recent comments

  • Scott
    November 15, 2013 - 17:02

    Gerry, the reason the provincial liberal leadership was so Tame and polite, They are hoping the PCS will fall flat on their faces, the long and short of it. The liberal having got anything to offer to the people. Don't matter who win this contest out of the five, we still be no farther ahead then we are now. The only person who offer anything to the people, Was the man from the west coast, and the liberal found its necessary to say no to him. all because he shown vision for the people.