The dynamic trio

Bob Wakeham
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“Those were the days, my friends, we thought they’d never end, we’d sing and dance, forever and a day…” 

In a political context, some of the days I thought would never end included leadership convention floor nastiness and intrigue.

Things like a desperately ambitious politician swallowing his pride and offering the moon, or, at the very least, a cabinet position, to a once sworn enemy, someone whose guts he hated immensely, in return for cattle driving easily led supporters over to the anointed corner of his stable, where the first ballot leader drooled in anticipation of his offer being accepted, principle and ideology having long left the building.   

Or two high-profile politicians, colleagues around the cabinet table for years, threatening each other with political oblivion if one or the other didn’t voluntarily drop out of the race.  

Or an also-ran with a handful of delegates using them to great effect to screw a long-time nemesis for having done him an injustice during some long forgotten election war and then bragging loudly to anyone who would listen; “I told that s.o.b. I’d get him back some day; well, this is the day.”

 And just about all of this grand stuff played out gloriously in a hall packed full of colourfully decked-off delegates, along with various hangers-on and, of course, print and electronic journalists in every corner, the television cameras capturing all the tasty moments, allowing the province to witness what makes politics such a fascinating, bitter, sell-your-soul-to-the-devil kind of business.

But, alas, those were the days, my friends, and they have ended, and now we have the blandness of last weekend’s Liberal leadership convention, clean and neat as an anal-retentive public relations officer, an event that was about as exciting as a MUN men’s basketball game. It was all so nice and sweet, a regular love-in; a quiet and boring love-in.

Well, maybe I am getting old, not with the ages, and just feeling nostalgic about those past days when leadership conventions were often the best shows in town, as opposed to that fuzzy, computerized event of last weekend. But obviously that’s what members of a younger generation wanted, and that’s certainly what they got. 

And the Liberals also got Dwight Ball, the Man From Glad, who emerged victoriously from the voting, discarding the label of interim leader, and formally joining Kathy Dunderdale and Lorraine Michael as part of the leadership contingent that will contest the provincial election in a couple of years.

Now has there ever been, I ask you, a more vibrant, charismatic and lively threesome set to lead their respective parties on the hustings? Not exactly Smallwood or Peckford or Wells or Tobin or  Williams, are they? (Some would say that’s a good thing.) But the “boys” in the campaign buses in the past were certainly big-time players; Ball, Michael and Dunderdale are, relatively speaking, still in the minor leagues. 

I noticed when Debbie Cooper welcomed Dwight Ball to the “Here and Now” studio for his first interview after winning the convention, she began by remarking that “nice guys don’t always finish last.” It certainly caught Ball off guard. You could tell. It’s not every day, after all, that a television interviewer, with a five-minute mandate to examine your new mandate, starts off by calling you a “nice guy.” Especially without a context.

Those foot-shuffling moments aside, there does appear to be a perception that Ball is a decent guy, a pleasant fella, and that that’s his strongest characteristic. (And not that it’s such a big deal, but he also looks, well, almost too neat, bearing a resemblance to the fella on the wedding cake — as my old friend Ray Guy once described Bill Rowe — and having a mannequin’s personality to match.)           

I’d suggest you go in search of a “nice guy” if you want someone to collect turkeys for the annual, ratings-grabbing Xmas spectacle at the CBC or someone to host the Janeway Hospital Telethon or to collect money for the War Amputees of Canada. But if you want a warrior to lead an all-out attack on Dunderdale’s bunch, niceness just won’t cut it. An opposition leader, one seeking the premier’s chair, has to be a bit of a prick, a take-no-prisoners crusader and zealot.  An Yvonne Jones, for example. 

Then there’s Lorraine Michael, oblivious (until it was too late) to the coup that shocked her out of her rubber boots, and then unable to gain control of her floundering caucus. Again: nice person, smart person, but someone whose party’s credibility has taken a pounding  these past few weeks, a slamming

to the mat that has practically destroyed any chance the NDP  might have of winning the election.

And Michael might not be there anyway two years from now, even if she survives the leadership review in the new year. Michael might just decide she's had enough, has contributed enough to Newfoundland society, and might find retirement suits her just fine.

And who knows? Dunderdale might join Michael on the sidelines before the next election, pushed from the field of play by a caucus not anxious to descend to the political sewer. The premier has managed to create some rare, positive publicity for her cause recently, but it might be too little, too late. She’s still trailing dramatically in the polls, and the Muskrat Falls project, on which Dunderdale will live or die politically, continues to get an extremely rough ride in Nova Scotia.

But if the two women are still in place in two years, we’ll have Ball, Dunderdale and Michael going head to head.

Not exactly one for the ages. Political scientists won’t be kicking up their heels and revamping their curriculum to ensure the 2015 election campaign can be analyzed by pimply faced students. 

But what do I know? Maybe the big three will wage a dynamic battle royal, one none of us will ever forget.

“Those were the days, my friends…”

Bob Wakeham has spent more than 40 years as a journalist in Newfoundland and Labrador. He can be reached by email at bwakeham@nl.rogers.com.

Organizations: CBC, Janeway Hospital Telethon, NDP Newfoundland society

Geographic location: Canada, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and Labrador

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