And so the old has become new again. That is the best way to sum up the Liberal leadership contest.
I hesitate to call it a race, since that would invoke visions of energy, vitality and drive, with the winner crossing the finish line to loud cheers and fanfare.
As Randy Simms pointed out on Saturday, while there might be merits to the approach taken by the Liberals in selecting a new leader, it lacked pizazz. I watched, or I should say, I tried to watch some of the Liberal leadership coverage on Sunday. I watched some of the old guard parade in front of the camera — Beaton Tulk, Roger Grimes, Gerry Reid — and some of the new like Nicholas Shears, talking about party renewal and rejuvenation.
Yet, I was struck by the decidedly quiet atmosphere of the Delta ballroom — by political party convention standards, anyway. For a party running five leadership candidates, all claiming to be the next premier of the province, it appeared to be a small crowd. You might say that no one needed to be there, since anyone who wanted to vote could and would have done it beforehand from home.
There was no need to be there to work the floor, to get delegates from dropped candidates to convert for the next round of voting. All of that would have been done in the weeks and months leading up to this final day.
And yes, all that is true, but this is a leadership convention. It was portrayed as the rebirth of the Liberal party. It is a big deal for the many of us who could not be there; we only have the benefit of looking in.
It looked quiet. Even when Dwight Ball was announced as the new leader, it appeared the cheers from “The Smokeroom on the Kyle” would have been louder.
So why? Why was there not a big crowd there? Surely five candidates, two of whom are big names in the St. John’s area, could have and should have used their organization to fill the Delta ballroom to overflowing.
Would it have changed the outcome? Definitely not. But politics, as Ball rightly pointed out, is about organization, and it is also about demonstrating that you have the ability to bring people to your team.
Some things were missing Sunday afternoon: energy, drive and people.
All that aside, what does the outcome mean? The rank and file of the Liberal party chose a steady hand in Dwight Ball, who has been there when the going was tough. They rejected Paul Antle and Cathy Bennett, in my view, probably because they were exactly the opposite of Ball. While Ball has stepped up to the plate in the Liberal Party’s dark days, Bennett and Antle have either flirted with the Tories (in the case of Bennett) or kept his head down (in the case of Antle). Frankly, when looking at the Top 3 candidates, they chose principle over opportunism.
Where to from here for the Liberal Party under Ball’s leadership? Well it is a long way to the 2015 election, so they needn’t think the polling numbers of today in any way reflect what will happen in the next general election. As has been abundantly demonstrated in other provinces, late pre-election polling has a way of being turned on its head when people actually get down to voting.
The leadership is out of the way, so give us some meaningful, principled debate. Drop the rhetoric over Bill 29 if you aren’t at the very least going to disclose who funded your campaigns. While you have an important opposition role to play, the next general election has just unofficially begun. Give us what you stand for, not just what you stand against.
And what of the other four leadership candidates? For Jim Bennett, I guess he will be around, amazing the rest of the province as to who can get elected in St. Barbe district. Dumaresque will, like a crackie, continue to nip at someone’s heels and, like a crackie, for no clear reason.
Cathy Bennett said she was going out knocking on doors on Sunday night and is supposedly looking at Virginia Waters for the next general election — but as a Tory or a Liberal? Only the real Cathy Bennett can tell.
And Paul Antle? He said he is running in the next general election, as well. But if it is like elections past when he was allegedly going to run, I suspect that will depend on which way the wind is blowing.
When you look at the five candidates, Dwight Ball was definitely the right choice. He would have gotten my vote.
Trevor Taylor is a former cabinet minister under the Danny Williams administration. Email: email@example.com.