The departure of Jerome Kennedy from the ranks of the House of Assembly and cabinet last week means the political landscape in Newfoundland and Labrador is about to change.
With the former finance minister out of the picture, the stage is set for Premier Kathy Dunderdale to initiate a significant overhaul of her cabinet. With less than two years to the next general election, one would think she will look to move some of the existing cabinet ministers into different portfolios, to bring some new faces to the cabinet table and to set into motion the cabinet drive that is required as they begin the run towards election 2015.
It goes without saying that they have a lot of work to do.
With polling consistently placing them in a deficit situation on the public opinion front, nothing short of a full frontal push by all members of the cabinet and caucus will suffice if they are to retain the government in the next general election.
With Kennedy’s departure, there will also be a change in the political landscape in the district of Carbonear-Harbour Grace.
Gone is Mr. Carbonear, as some have aptly described Jerome Kennedy, leaving an empty seat that by law has to be filled through a byelection within 90 days of his departure.
While the government has every right to call the byelection expeditiously and, regardless, within 60 days, it would seem to me that the fair thing to do is wait until the Liberal leadership race is over.
With two of the Top 3 Liberal leadership contenders having no seat in the legislature, it would appear that the Carbonear-Harbour Grace byelection provides an opportunity for the winner of the Liberal leadership, should he or she not currently be a sitting member, to seek a seat in the House.
While both Cathy Bennett and Paul Antle appear to favour running in St. John’s seats, Bennett has already indicated her preference for Virginia Waters. Should either win, the logical political thing to do is run in the first seat available.
This, of course, is not without precedent. When Clyde Wells won the general election of 1989, but lost in Humber East to Lynn Verge, Graham Flight stepped down in Windsor-Buchans to allow Wells to gain a seat. Wells subsequently returned to the west coast and ran in Bay of Islands in the next general election.
Again, when Brian Tobin took over as leader of the Liberal party, he ran in the byelection in Bay of Islands after Wells’ departure, to move to The Straits and White Bay North in the next general election.
And when Danny Williams became leader of the Progressive Conservative party in 2001 he ran shortly thereafter in the first available byelection, in Humber West.
The history of new political leaders and byelections in Newfoundland and Labrador, and throughout the country, for that matter, has been one where leaders seek election to the legislature at the earliest possible opportunity. This does not preclude them from seeking election in a different seat at a later date.
For Dunderdale to call the byelection prior to the completion of the Liberal leadership would be patently unfair, mean-spirited and speak to an element of fear of the potential new leader — not a message she needs to or should be conveying.
Likewise, as has been indicated by at least a couple of commentators and one leadership candidate, to dismiss the opportunity for a potential new leader to run in Carbonear-Harbour Grace sends a variety of other equally negative messages.
It speaks to an individual who wants to be leader, but doesn’t want to be in the House yet or only on their terms. It suggests that the district of Carbonear-Harbour Grace is not quite as important to the leader as, say, a St. John’s seat.
Some have said that to run the new leader in the byelection might serve to alienate some in the district. I know not of a district in the province that would not welcome a party leader as their representative, especially one who touts him or herself as the next premier of the province.
Party leaders should be sitting members of the House of Assembly. The right thing for Dunderdale to do is wait, and the right thing for the Liberals to do, if he or she is not a sitting member, is run their new leader in
Trevor Taylor is a former cabinet minister under
the Danny Williams administration.