For political reporters, this is when the times get suddenly interesting. When a premier’s doing really well in the polls, MHAs from the same party stay in line like good little ducklings, keenly aware that their own political interests are directly tied to those of the commander-in-chief.
But when the poll numbers start to shift, it’s hard to keep political animals at heel.
And the numbers are shifting here. For the second time in two polling periods in polls by Corporate Research Associates, Premier Kathy Dunderdale has slipped considerably. Monday, a poll by Angus Reid had more bad news for Dunderdale: a 16 point drop to a 39 per cent approval rating since last March. In worse news for the Progressive Conservatives? The NDP’s Lorraine Michael has an approval rating of 53 per cent.
And that means grumbling inside the provincial Tories, despite their comfortable majority and their still-reasonable lead in polling numbers. Why? Because they are now consistently going in the wrong direction — and campaigns depend a lot on momentum.
Tories whose personal success is tied to the performance of a sitting premier have a vested interest in ensuring that the premier holds onto her popularity. Grumbling and a slip in the premier’s numbers combine to give the little people inside the party a newfound power to push for change. And push they do.
There have already been small but significant shifts in the premier’s office with the movement of key personnel. Some inside the party — speaking more frankly than they have since then-premier Danny Williams took office — have said there are a significant number of party members who want even more action to turn things around.
Word also has it that the next stage of the bad-poll exercise is about to begin — and it’s something you can already see in British Columbia, where a series of cabinet ministers and MLAs have announced they don’t intend to run in the next election.
It’s one thing to fight a relatively easy election on the coattails of a strong administration. It’s something quite different to find the energy needed to fight the campaign on your own reputation and shoe leather. If experience holds true, there may soon be similar retirement announcements here — and that may well be the impetus behind an expected upcoming cabinet shuffle.
None of this means any imminent change in government — the Tories, re-elected last year with a majority, can have a firm hand on the tiller for several years, if they want.
What it could mean is an imminent change in the style of this government — and, depending on how bad the numbers get and how great the discontent inside the party grows — significant personnel changes as well.
For political reporters, this is when lips get loose and brown envelopes start to make their way into mailboxes and anonymously sourced emails into in-boxes. It’s when formerly-unreachable and haughty cabinet ministers change their attitudes, start calling you back personally and making all chummy.
Interesting times, indeed.