So, it’s time for The Games. And I’m not referring to that athletic extravaganza beginning next week in Russia (although I’ll be glued to the set whenever the Canadian NHL all-star team is on the ice, even if I believe it was a crime Martin St. Louis was not named to the line-up, and I won’t miss a second of any performance by Marystown’s Kaetlyn Osmond, a gifted figure skater who has become a bright and delightful ambassador for Newfoundland).
But, hey, those Sochi Games, the Putin Games (an ego-boosting event for the narcissistic and homophobic Russian president) are in the minor leagues compared to the competition taking place right here in our own backyard.
And, of course, I’m talking about The 2014 Newfoundland Political Games, a pig out, a buffet, for those who love observing the democratic system at work, to bear witness, in other words, to Newfoundland politicians putting their manipulative, spin-doctoring and self-serving gears into over-drive.
In a province — and, before that, a country — where politics has rarely been dull and has always been regarded as a grand spectator sport, this year-long festival of politicians being stroked or screwed, depending on his or her circumstances, has the makings of one of the more entertaining spectacles we’ve seen here in a while.
It’s a line-up over the next 12 months that will certainly contain an abundance of hits for the political addict: a leadership race to elect the head of the governing but fading Tories, and, of course, a temporary premier; an NDP leadership review to determine whether Lorraine Michael will be allowed to keep her position after the party’s adventure into the world of back-stabbing; the waiting game played by those patient Liberals, sitting idly by with dumb smiles on their faces, sick and tired of being on the outside looking in, away from the rooms of power they’ve always believed they’re entitled to, awaiting the next defection of MHAs to their side. (The Liberal party philosophy: don’t do or say anything to mess this up; the government is being dumped into our laps).
And to top off the Newfoundland Political Games: a provincial election.
The Games had a preview with that NDP implosion, but the show really began in earnest when Kathy Dunderdale departed the premier’s chair in disgrace. (Her friends and colleagues, especially the new premier, Tom Marshall, who has the loyalty of a sloppy and drooling Newfoundland dog, can put whatever spin they wish on her departure, but it was a humiliating exit for Dunderdale.)
Then the potential premiers and their supporters quickly dried their crocodile tears and names from within the caucus locker room, and outside locales, as well, began to emerge, the starting blocks being filled by the hour, as reporters stumbled over one another trying to keep track.
There were a few non-shockers, a couple of surprises and then a few more who clamoured into the spotlight just to, well, to be in the spotlight, to enjoy the very short-lived fame of being talked about as a possible leader of the government. And, as is usually the case in leadership contests, there are already names popping up of individuals who haven’t a prayer of winning, but want to put themselves in a position that might allow them to exchange a handful of delegates on convention night in return for a cabinet position (Steve Kent comes quickly to mind; Paul Davis was there as well, before coming to grips with his ludicrous foray into the contest and then sensibly pulling out).
A few other preliminary thoughts from this corner of The Games’ sidelines: Darin King appears to be an early front-runner, and has been mentioned, in fact, as a possible Tory leader right back to the time of Danny Williams’ resignation. And if you like your political leaders laced with a dose of nastiness, King Darin (as educators called him when he was their boss) is your man.
It’s hard not to remember the time King, as head of the Eastern School Board, suspended two teachers for insubordination after they dared to speak publicly about stress in the classroom. (Can you just imagine the gall of those teachers?!)
It spoke volumes about King’s philosophy and style of management and governance. Then there was his embarrassing assault on Gerry Rogers for having her name mentioned on an anti-
Dunderdale Facebook page, an attack that back-fired on the Tories. But you never know what sort of personality might appeal to leadership convention delegates. Besides, maybe King likes puppy dogs.
And how about the patronage boy, Fabian Manning, the politician who took two separate plunges into the Senate trough, indicating he had an interest in returning to Newfoundland? It takes a fair amount of arrogance to even think about carrying that much baggage into a leadership race. But Manning must have it in spades.
Tim Powers, a Tory operative for years, a backroom boy, as he would be described in another, less politically correct era, is also contemplating the party leadership. If he decides against the move, he can always return, of course, to his occasional gig as a totally objective, neutral, non-partisan host of one of VOCM's open line shows.
Then there’s fish merchant Bill Barry, a darling of the corporate right wing of the PC Party, I’d guess, who’ll probably be an official candidate by the time this homily of mine appears in print.
And, for sure, there will be more names added, some deleted, as The Games progress in the coming weeks.
Needless to say, this is a fine time for reporters and their bosses, given their front row access to The Games. And it even brings about a feeling, albeit brief, of nostalgia on my part to be back in a newsroom, as I recall the days when I was heavily involved in coverage of a slew of leadership conventions, elections and various incidents of vicious political infighting and party cannibalism. (God, how pathetic: I’m starting to sound like I’m part of a three minute clip on NTV’s “A Little Good News”.)
In any case, this Saturday observation perch I occupy in retirement will provide me with half-decent seats, a location that will allow for a scattered cheer, and more than enough boos.
So: let The Games begin.
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.