The best thing about Tuesday’s provincial election is it will likely end 60-odd years of Newfoundlanders’ (and Labradorians’) bad habit of embracing premiers as messiahs.
This tendency toward messianic politics is a provincial disgrace and embarrassment, and is only rivalled on a national scale by Albertans, who have robotically elected Tory government after Tory government for 40 years. Out there, people have been born and grown to middle age without experiencing anything other than Tory rule.
On our shores, the situation is equally ridiculous. Every few elections, voters flip from Liberal to Tory to Liberal and back to Tory, each time hoping, expecting and praying that the great esteemed leader will miraculously lead the pauper province to the Promised Land.
The main unknown in Tuesday’s election is how much of the devotion to former premier Danny Williams will be transferred to his proxy and replacement, PC Leader Kathy Dunderdale.
The Corporate Research Associates poll shows the PCs at 44 per cent, far below the percentage of support — usually in the 70s — they enjoyed under Williams.
With the NDP at 18 per cent — about double what they usually receive on election day — and the Liberals at 12 per cent, the House of Assembly could contain a respectable sprinkling of opposition MHAs, rather than the mere handful of recent years, which couldn’t even fill a minivan.
It would be encouraging if there were signs this coming change is due to maturation, perhaps even a wising up, of the electorate. Newfound wealth and sophistication in the political sphere would be a good combination (although Albertans haven’t managed it).
Oil money and “have” status could prompt the people of the province to refuse any longer to be peasants in need of an overlord, and instead find a healthy balance among the competing political parties.
Unfortunately, there is no reason to conclude Newfoundlanders have grown up and decided to throw off the yoke of dominating leaders.
No offence to Dunderdale, but she lacks the gravitas, charisma, power and essence of Danny (or Joey, or Clyde, or even that skeet Tobin).
This is not good for her or the PCs, but is definitely good for the citizenry. For once, voters can look at the three political leaders and not see an obvious saviour among them.
There seems to be a substantial backlash against new Liberal Leader Kevin Aylward, which can’t be entirely explained by his occasional displays of bumbling befuddlement (“That poll was rigged!”).
The Liberal party’s drop to third place in several polls is partially due to their new leader obviously not being saviour material. In traditional political terms, Aylward isn’t fit to polish Danny’s halo, let alone replace him.
(To give NDP Leader Lorraine Michael her due, she and her party are also partially responsible for pushing the Liberals into third place.)
The Liberals made a serious miscalculation.
When former leader Yvonne Jones announced she had to step down for health reasons, they should have supported her not by uttering platitudes about her service to the party and province, but by insisting her resignation be merely temporary.
Jones, after all, is still running as an MHA. She will, presumably, resume sitting in the House of Assembly.
When she resigned as leader, she said her health prevented her from performing the rigours of a campaign. She didn’t say she could no longer work as an elected representative.
It would have been odd and unorthodox for the Liberals to run a campaign with an absentee leader, but preferable to the spectacle of their replacement process, in which a flock of opportunists descended like vultures — with none coming close to Jones’s ability.
Brian Jones is a desk editor at The Telegram. He can be reached by email at email@example.com.