I’ve been working on a novel now for about four years. In it, there’s a part where, as a marriage teeters on the very edge of collapse, one of the characters puts her hands on her husband’s face and says, almost desperately, “Now is the time when you talk.”
He doesn’t talk, and the results are exactly what you can imagine.
Now is the time when you talk.
The provincial Liberals have been watching their fortunes improve, their poll numbers climbing regularly, but not without a lot of help: all around them, their competition has been imploding. The NDP had itself a fine meltdown of stupid followed by defections to the Liberals, while the Tories have been doing what tired old governments do best: deflating gently like a leftover helium birthday balloon into the wrinkled rubber land of MHAs who have pensionable time in hand.
But should the Liberals be high-fiving each other and counting the days until they take over as a government? Hardly. Watching your competition give up the race doesn’t mean you are gaining momentum. It kind of means you’re benefiting from watching others lose theirs.
The Liberals haven’t been doing much to change that. Sure, there are the usual speaking engagements — and now, those are becoming slightly more frequent. But the Liberals haven’t exactly been carving out any ground as their own. They talk a good game about openness and accountability, and about the problems with Bill 29, the Tory government’s bill that led to a reduction of access to information about what the government was up to.
At the same time, Dwight Ball and the Liberals have basically been trailing the Tories, popping up a day late and a dollar short in the news cycle to agree with the latest
spending announcement by a Tory administration intent on buying whatever support they can with heaping handfuls of taxpayer cash.
It’s not enough to simply say “Bill 29, bad,” while supporting virtually all of the existing government’s spending plans.
Why? Because you’re not really saying anything about what you want to do.
In the legal profession, when there are case law precedents you don’t want applied to your client — say, because the prosecution has trotted out a case where someone caught stealing money from a charity got a whopping five years in the clink and say your client deserves the same — you do what’s called “distinguishing” those precedents. In other words, you “distinguish” the cases by showing how they’re different from each other, and why someone else’s harsh sentence shouldn’t be used to determine the one that’s going to be levied on your poor, shivering client.
What the Liberals have not shown any sign of just yet is distinguishing themselves in any meaningful way from the existing provincial government.
Out in the great Newfoundland and Labrador electorate, there’s probably not one single voter who could tell you exactly where the provincial Liberals stand, or, for that matter, how they’re really all that different from the existing Tories.
That certainly was not the case with the last switchover of political parties: whatever you say about Danny Williams, he very, very clearly distinguished his party from the governing Liberals.
You might not need to hand out the kind of bitterness and rancor that Williams heaped on the government of Roger Grimes — some days, it didn’t seem like Williams was distinguishing himself from the Grimes government as much as he looked like he simply despised it. But he clearly and quickly showed the difference between the two.
I know I get frustrated quickly, and want things to move fast. But the province’s Liberals seem to be acting like they are just waiting to unwrap a present, if only Christmas would hurry up and arrive. It’s not that easy.
Sure, they have an opportunity. If they want to capitalize on that chance, they have to do a lot more than just sitting and waiting.
Hello Liberals: now is the time when you talk.
Russell Wangersky is The Telegram’s
editorial page editor. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.