Historic, but overall a bit of a yawn

Bob Wakeham
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To the election, naturally enough, four days after many thousands wandered into gyms and community halls and the like and marked their “X” for the man or woman or the party that best reflected their political leanings in this first year after the lengthy reign of the lord Daniel.

In a humble attempt to answer the question (forever posed in that wonderfully inquisitive way in which we contemplate everything from the price of a dozen flippers to the latest stats on locals in the NHL), the question that sounds a bit like “whaddya think of it all, buddy?”, here are a few, admittedly rambling thoughts from one corner of a Saturday newspaper in Newfoundland about Tuesday’s event:  

• There surely was a great deal of speculation over the past couple of weeks about history being made election night, much of it surrounding the possibility the NDP would form the official opposition party in the legislature. The NDP — as even the odd moose in Terra Nova Park who managed to escape the cull that began there this week would have realized by now — missed its goal by one seat, a disappointing outcome for its fervent followers. But the results, given the fact that this was at one time a mere fringe party in Newfoundland, could be deemed historic.

Nevertheless, as even NDP Leader Lorraine Michael, a lifelong feminist, would have to agree, the formation of a five-person caucus of New Democrats pales in historical comparison to the fact that Kathy Dunderdale became — at sometime just after 8 p.m. Tuesday, or whenever it was the CBC computers concluded the obvious — the first woman to be elected as premier or prime minister of Newfoundland.

As Dunderdale herself pointed out, women in Newfoundland were only granted the right to vote

in 1925, and she wondered,

with understandable glee, what

her grandmother and great-

grandmother would be thinking if they could have witnessed what occurred Tuesday night.

I remember, as a young reporter back in the 1970s, watching Hazel McIsaac, the first female to be elected as a provincial MHA, being viewed by government members (and probably a few of her Liberal colleagues as well) as a lightweight, strictly because of her gender, and she was subjected to some awful sexist taunts.

Frank Moores, who only really believed in one role for women, once remarked:  “Well, I’d have to go tit for tat with that honourable member, Mr. Speaker, or, in her case, tat for tit.” Women in politics have obviously come a long way. Dunderdale should be justly supportive, as well, of the way the before-mentioned Michael led her own party to new heights. The province — and not merely the respective political delegates to PC and NDP party conventions — has spoken. And what it said this past week, for Dunderdale most especially, will find a prominent spot in Newfoundland history books. As it should.                                       

• Speaking of a more enlightened age, I thought it refreshing that Ryan Cleary, appearing on one of CBC Television election night panels, was able to comfortably refer to Gerry Rogers being helped immensely on her campaign by her partner, Peg Norman.

They are a “powerful couple,” Cleary remarked.

Twenty-five years ago, a person involved in a same-sex relationship running in politics would have made for a scandal simmering beneath the surface. Now it’s irrelevant. (I recall producing a half-hour for a current affairs show in the late ’80s in which three gay men discussed their lives, a show that scandalized many viewers, and was considered provocative and controversial). Times have changed. And for the better. 

• I must admit to having watched only CBC’s election night coverage, a reflection of either my good taste or an obligation resulting from my long association with the Corp. And I’d give the show a positive rating (as if the corporation employees were hanging on my adjudication), a seven out of 10, exemplified by the masterful performance of David Cochrane, who was able to showcase both his journalistic and television performing chops. As he might say himself: “it ain’t as easy as it looks, folks.” There was a monumental, embarrassing glitch at one point, though, when viewers found themselves watching Debbie Cooper one moment and Alex Trebek the next, a technical gaffe of some sort that seemed to last an eternity  (probably a couple of minutes in actual time).

Instead of wondering about the latest returns from St. John’s Centre, we were left contemplating who the hero of the Battle of Singapore might be (in the form of a question, of course).

But, overall, the show was solid. Giving Mark Critch a regular slot throughout the night was a touch of brilliance, if you ask me. I’m sure the traditionalists at the CBC barfed at the notion of letting a funny man loose during such a “serious” night of news, but I thought it was a downright gutsy move, one that paid off. There were numerous laughs: Critch at one point referred to the youngish Steve Kent and the still younger Kurtis Coombs as the “Jughead and Archie” of Mount Pearl, debating heavy issues like an extended recess period; he also recommended that the best post-

election night party would take place at any NDP headquarters, a suggestion he made while mimicking taking a toke of weed. Just one last relatively minor and perhaps forgettable point on the CBC coverage: I cringed when Natalie Kalata, during an interview with the NDP leader, referred to her as “Lorraine.” Maybe I’m old school, but that sort of stuff makes my feet shuffle.   

• Kevin Aylward took a lot of flak from all corners during the election campaign, and deservedly so. But give him credit. The parachute for the Liberals opened at the last minute, and the freefall ended. They increased their seats from the last election, and they’re still the official opposition. Aylward doesn’t need me or anyone else to give him a pat on the back, though. He did a fine enough job of congratulating himself numerous times during his concession speech and in subsequent interviews.

Finally: I don’t blame the media, especially the electronic gangs, from trying desperately to make this an exciting election campaign. I would have done the same. But when all was said and done, this was a dull election.

As I’ve said, Dunderdale made history with her success in knocking down the door to the old boy’s club.

But it was still a 37 to six to five night.

That’s a crap-knocking in any language, and it won’t go down as one of the more invigorating races in Newfoundland political history.          


Bob Wakeham has spent more than 30 years as a journalist in Newfoundland and Labrador. He can be reached by email at bwakeham@nl.rogers.com.

Organizations: NDP, CBC, NHL

Geographic location: Newfoundland and Labrador, Terra Nova Park, Singapore Mount Pearl

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