I noted last week that the nature of governments has changed immensely because of changes in society generally since the First World War.
Our province, of course, has not been immune, though we have had some significant historical differences compared to the rest of Canada or other parts of the Commonwealth that became dominions when we became the 10th province of Canada in 1949.
One extraordinary event was our having one dominant political leader for 23 years, from 1949 to 1972.
Since 1972, when the Progressive Conservatives under Frank Moores succeeded in overcoming and replacing the long governance of J.R. Smallwood, our system has evolved as a competitive one, with parties in power for several terms and then displaced in elections by other leaders and parties.
It is often inevitable that if a political party has been in office and won three elections, it is most unusual for them to win a fourth. The public simply becomes jaded, fed up with all of the problems that arise in any society, and decides that it is time for a change.
This makes our current situation interesting, because the PC administration led first by Danny Williams — who defeated the previous Liberal administration — was extremely successful in the eyes of the public.
He decided, at the height of his power and influence, and after announcing the very important Muskrat Falls project, to attempt to redress the situation that arose from agreements originally entered into with Quebec by BRINCO, permitted by Smallwood, relating to our hydro resources in Labrador, which were terribly and overwhelmingly favourable economically to Quebec, and which will not end until 2041.
Williams initiated Muskrat Falls, but then announced his retirement from politics, turning his administration over to Kathy Dunderdale.
Dunderdale was left with a number of serious problems, including tremendously increased spending as a result of revenues from offshore oil and gas.
Too much debt was added to the provincial burden, with the result that Dunderdale had to bring in a budget of restraint — a surprise to the unsuspecting public which aroused great opposition and caused difficulties for the government.
There were restrictions in spending, including laying off many civil servants and cuts in services, always difficult for a government to survive politically.
This debt crisis was not of Dunderdale’s making, but a condition she had been left to deal with by her predecessor, and which she had continued.
Dunderdale’s administration became unpopular, as is usually guaranteed by unexpected spending restraints.
But she has to be given credit for going forward with Muskrat Falls — which will add 824 megawatts of capacity in Labrador to the 5,428 megawatt capacity of the huge Upper Churchill Falls operation. On Dec. 10, 2013, she announced that Muskrat Falls has successfully raised $5 billion in financing from international financial consortiums, with the loan to be repaid over 40 years with a blended interest rate of 3.8 per cent.
She also secured a loan guarantee from the federal government.
This certainly will assure Dunderdale positive consideration as the first female premier of Newfoundland.
Dunderdale is also to be congratulated for understanding that her administration had become unpopular and for making the statesmanlike decision to vacate the leadership and allow the PC party to prepare itself for the next election by selecting a new leader in a democratic and open leadership convention in July.
Meanwhile, former finance minister Tom Marshall is not planning to run for re-election, but has a firm hand on the tiller as interim premier until his successor is elected.
It’s obvious that the next provincial election will be very competitive and that the main contenders for power will be the PC party and the Liberal party, with the NDP not likely to be a real contender.
It’s positive to see that several aspirants have expressed an interest in the leadership of the PC party who had not been considered likely contenders before.
The first is Bill Barry, a well-known player in our fishing industry as owner of the Barry Group of companies in Corner Brook.
As a former politician, I have always thought Barry was, and is, a most able survivor and leader in the intense competition there is in the fishing industry. He is a man of character, experience, learning and fearlessness. He is not your ordinary businessman; he and his wife, for example, have home-schooled all of their children, who are all occupied in the family fishing enterprise. I have known and observed him for many years.
I believe the PC party will be a strong contender in the election despite the fact that we have had three successive PC governments in recent years. Still, it is very difficult for any party to win a fourth term. They will have their work cut out for them.
It is also clear that the Liberals, led by Dwight Ball, the MHA for Humber Valley and leader of the opposition, are an invigorated party and the PCs’ main competition. Ball is also an entrepreneur with extensive business interests.
The NDP, led by Lorraine Michael, should not be discounted. They’ve had some recent problems, but their leader is a woman much admired in this province, with a very positive record as a caring person interested in people’s problems and in helping those who need assistance. The NDP is never to be underestimated.
Politics is daunting and can be mean and difficult — a far from ordinary life.
A growing problem is the cost today for a candidate to participate in a leadership contest — at least $350,000 or so, and raising the money yourself is difficult if you are not wealthy. It is not easy, generally, to raise money under today’s rules, which are unattractive to many donors, whose names must be publicly disclosed. This is going to be the greatest problem for aspiring politicians today and in the future.
It will be interesting to observe who will succeed in forming the next administration of Newfoundland and Labrador.
I regret that I cannot myself — because of common sense and advancing age — participate in the great contests that will unfold in the next two years. But I wish all participants good luck.
Pursue vigorously every opportunity you have, treat everyone you compete with in a fair and generous manner and you will enjoy the struggle, whether you win or lose. Of course, you will enjoy it much more if you win and continue to pursue the good of your province however you can.
I encourage all those interested to get involved.
John Crosbie welcomes your feedback at firstname.lastname@example.org