I was in Ottawa last week for a staff meeting with my work colleagues, but I took the opportunity to attend parts of the Northern Lights Conference 2014.
The Northern lights Conference is a trade show organized by the Labrador North Chamber of Commerce and the Baffin Region Chamber of Commerce.
It is a semi-annual event, occurring every two years since 2008, bringing together the world of business, government, academia and the NGO community operating in the North.
With just about 1,400 registered delegates at this conference, it is the premier gathering place for those doing business in Nunavut, northern Quebec and Labrador. No offence to those who weren’t there, but just about everyone who is anyone in the North showed up.
So, I spent most of the week speaking with a multitude of people, a great cross-section of the community: Newfoundlanders working in Nunavut, business people from the island, leaders in Labrador and the occasional politician and ex-politician.
And while much of the discussion was about the opportunities in the North, the conversation invariably turned to the political environment in Newfoundland and Labrador.
The most striking thing about the conversation, even among the diehards of the Liberal ranks, who think their time is coming again, was an underlying concern about leadership. Yes, the Tories are on the ropes, yes, Dwight Ball has taken over as the new leader of the Liberals, yes the Tories are going to get a new leader, the NDP are the NDP, but. …
To put it as nicely as I can, the prevailing view was that there isn’t much there to pick from. That view was followed most often by, “but who would want to do it anyway?”
Who would want to take a perfectly good reputation — because most people who get elected do so because they have a good reputation in their respective communities — and subject themselves to the constant scrutiny of the public?
I found myself mostly agreeing. Let’s face it, Newfoundland and Labrador politics is at least as much driven by what the leader and team look like as it is by party affiliation. Right now, the general public, at least if those attending the Northern Lights are any indication, don’t see a team they feel confident in putting on the ice.
When you look at the Liberal bench, beyond Andrew Parsons, do you see a cabinet minister? I don’t see a cabinet minister. Dwight Ball, while a nice guy, is not seen as a leader who is going to inspire the six or eight strong individuals he needs to step forward to form his first line. But he desperately needs them if he is to credibly portray the Liberals as the government in waiting.
And then look at the Tories. They have a significant portion of the cabinet and some of the caucus who will not run in the next election. They need new blood. While they are selecting a new leader, they had better select one who can bring the six to eight new cabinet ministers they need for 2015.
I don’t know what to say about the NDP. It usually takes a political party a couple of terms to achieve the level of infighting and dysfunction that they achieved in less than one. Maybe they are like that old TV commercial: they are just slightly ahead of their time.
In any event, they weren’t a consideration amongst the wide cross-section of people attending the Northern Lights Conference … so maybe they can reflect on that when they conduct their leadership review.
Trevor Taylor is a former cabinet minister under the Danny Williams administration. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.