Pity the provincial Progressive Conservatives. OK, maybe pity’s too strong a word. But you can at least feel a little bit sorry for them, especially because they might be feeling a little dazed and confused right now.
For years — for more than a decade, in fact — the Tories have been the brand of government in this province.
They’ve been in office so long that they probably can’t even imagine what sitting in an opposition seat might feel like — now, after last night’s byelection in St. George’s-Stephenville East, they’ve lost seats that were held by a former government House leader and senior cabinet minister (Joan Shea), a former premier (Kathy Dunderdale) and a former minister of finance (Jerome Kennedy).
And in Tuesday’s byelection, they didn’t just get beaten. They got shellacked.
Liberal candidate Scott Reid got 2,211 votes, easily doubling the Tories’ Wally Childs, who picked up 948. The New Democrats’ Bernice Hancock wasn’t even in the same ballpark, picking up 579 votes. (And leading NDP MP Ryan Cleary to tweet “The question is not how to stop NL Liberals, but how to boost provincial New Democrats. Status quo not working …” That’s another, and still unfolding, story.)
To put things in context, in the 2011 general election, Joan Shea pulled down 2,104 votes, trouncing Liberal Leader Kevin Aylward (1,396 votes) and Hancock (705 votes).
You can now reasonably ask, what Tory seat is a safe one? (Answer: none.)
You can also ask, how did the Tories get from where they were in the last provincial election to where they are now? (Answer: that’s a little more complicated. And solving their problem is even more tangly.)
Ever met someone who can do no wrong? Well, right now the Tories can do no right.
They’re losing ground to an overall impression. And there’s not much that’s harder to fight than that.
Have they performed better since the departure of Dunderdale?
Yes, they have. Premier Tom Marshall has been playing the right keys on the accountability piano, and the Tories have been scrambling to try and prove that they’re listening and changing.
Has it made a difference?
Apparently not. Because you don’t just have to say and do things differently, you have to be seen and heard doing things differently. To the frustration of the current government, no one seems to be listening.
In recent public opinion polls, voters have been satisfied with what the current government is doing, yet still plan to vote for someone else.
It must be maddening.
Watch now for the inevitable retirements from longtime MHAs who don’t have the stomach for a potentially losing fight. Will the Tories lose in 2015? Politics is a strange business, and things change. Right now, though, it’s grim.
One more telling point?
Politics in this province is often a participatory sport, with everyone and their uncle jockeying to make their point of view known.
By mid-morning Wednesday, not one comment had been filed on stories about the byelection win on either The Telegram’s website or on the CBC’s site.
At The Western Star, much closer to the byelection, there was one single online comment, congratulating Reid.
Not gone. But forgotten.