Optics are everything, especially on the campaign trail. Once in office, politicians often wiggle and waffle and go back on their word. They shouldn’t, but they do. Rosy promises wilt in the harsh light of economic and political realities.
But on the campaign trail, waffling is not a good sign. You have to wonder why any candidate — especially a candidate running for the leadership of his own party and, by default, the post of premier — would let himself get snarled up in apparent subterfuge.
That’s what happened to Steve Kent and Paul Davis Wednesday, when confronted with allegations they were colluding in the delegate selection process for the PC leadership convention.
When the news first surfaced, Kent denied it.
“I am not teamed up with any other camp,” Kent announced on Twitter. “I have a positive relationship with both opponents. I’m in this race to win it.”
But he later admitted he and Davis had collaborated to run joint slates of delegates at meetings in the St. John’s area, in an effort to beat John Ottenheimer in the three-way race.
Davis was forthcoming when contacted by The Telegram Wednesday morning. He said it made sense to try to split the delegates in St. John’s East and St. John’s West, where Ottenheimer has the most support.
But he seemed more evasive on CBC’s “Radio Noon,” when host Ramona Dearing asked him how he benefited from the tag-team approach. When Davis went off on a tangent, Ramona kept repeating the question. Davis accused her of cutting him off.
It’s a bizarre little bump in the campaign. There’s not even much reason to think it’s a big deal.
It’s normal for a campaign team to try to recruit as many supporters as possible to vote for a slate of delegates. With enough support, it’s possible to get the entire slate elected. And keep in mind that on the convention floor, candidates are almost expected to wheel and deal to either cement their own support, or transfer it elsewhere.
In reality, the whole delegate selection process is dubious anyway. As the saying goes, it’s a bit like sausages — you don’t really want to watch how they’re made. Up until Wednesday, the average turnout at meetings around the province was 77. In Burgeo-La Poile, only 11 people turned out.
It’s a system that’s already seen by many as flawed, and the candidates’ evasiveness Wednesday only served to inflame that view.
And that’s really the point. It’s not so much the deed as the dance. Kent and Davis offered a little pas de deux when all that was required was a straight answer. Not the sort of optics either of them wanted.
Ironically, it was all for naught. Both came up empty handed at the St. John’s meetings.