PCs plan their approach

Tories wrestle with leadership, future strategy in the wake of the election

James McLeod jmcleod@thetelegram.com
Published on January 8, 2016

It’s been just six weeks since the Progressive Conservative party was soundly defeated in the provincial election, but privately within the party, there’s already lots of talk about how to rebuild, and where things go from here.

But speaking on the condition of anonymity, insiders offer a much more stark assessment.

Multiple sources laid the blame firmly at the feet of Kathy Dunderdale, who served as premier from late 2010 to January 2014, and presided over controversial episodes such as Bill 29 and substantial 2013 public service layoffs.

Another Tory also singled out Dunderdale, calling her years as premier a “nightmare” for the party.

Publicly, the prevailing line from Tories is that politics is “cyclical” and after 12 years in power, the Progressive Conservatives’ time was simply up.

And even in private conversations, that sentiment is still there, but it comes with a bleak reality for the Progressive Conservatives.

Because if politics is truly cyclical, that cycle seems to go in 10-15 year cycles, so the Tories could be sitting in the lonely opposition benches for quite a while.

“This is usually an eight-year process before you can become competitive again,” a Tory strategist said, also speaking on the condition of anonymity.

A Tory MHA said much the same thing.

“The majority of people, I think, are of that school of thought that this is an eight-year scenario,” the MHA said.

At the same time, the MHA said a lot of Tories see Premier Dwight Ball as fairly weak, and he’ll be up against an ugly financial situation, wrestling to get a $1.9-billion deficit under control.

“The numbers suck, so they’re going to have a very difficult time governing over the next four years,” the MHA said. “The economic circumstances and Dwight’s leadership won’t be enough to defeat them, but if we get our shit together, I actually believe it’s conceivable.”

A big question swirling around all of this is where PC Leader Paul Davis fits into the picture.

In a December interview with The Telegram, Davis said he plans to stay as leader at least for the time being — “Until we, the party, collectively decide there should be a change.”

At least among the folks speaking with The Telegram, there’s no sense of anger towards Davis for his leadership of the party in the past year and a half.

In fact, there’s even some talk of him holding on for four years.

“It’s kind of a split mind on that,” one party insider said. “There’s a good portion of people who also think he’s going to stick around, and think he could pull it out in 2019.”

But the party strategist, despite speaking highly of Davis’s leadership during the campaign, said that to really renew the party, he probably has to step aside eventually.

“The reality of it is that you need a new crew, new ideas, new image altogether,” he said. “Roger Grimes wasn’t doing that bad a job when he was premier, and we beat him. It got to a point where Roger, if he was giving a Newfoundlander a cheque every morning, they weren’t going to vote for him because the brand was old.”

jmcleod@thetelegram.com Twitter: TelegramJames