If you happen to believe, as do many politicians and their behind-the-scenes workers (sycophants and the like), that a leadership race can invigorate a party that’s been dragging its arse in the muck of moribundity and mediocrity for way too long, then the “contests” and, eventually, the conventions, taking place to decide on new leaders for the PCs and New Democrats in the province couldn’t have come along at a better time.
Conventional (so to speak) wisdom has it that fresh blood transfused into a party, along with the bells and whistles of a delegate fest in St. John’s, rip-snorting speeches by the candidates seeking the leadership crown, and the media coverage that usually accompanies such events, can all add up to a boost in a party’s fortunes, especially, as I say, for parties desperately in need of a shot of political adrenalin.
There have certainly been more than just a few humdingers of leadership battles throughout the years in Newfoundland, eliciting a heavy dose of attention in a place where politics has always been a regular topic of the day at the kitchen table, the corner store, the trap skiff, or the neighbourhood tavern (the odd shoving match or down-and-out exchange of fists arising from a political “debate” has always been a staple of barroom entertainment, a frequent observer of which I have delightfully been).
Just in my time (admittedly, the adjective “considerable” can now be applied to the word time), there have been leadership fights that provoked the rapt scrutiny of Newfoundlanders from Happy Valley to Holyrood: Smallwood screwing Crosbie, Roberts screwing Smallwood, Rowe screwing Roberts, Peckford screwing half the Moores cabinet, Rideout screwing himself, Tobin et al. screwing Efford, and the list goes on and on.
There have certainly been more than just a few humdingers of leadership battles throughout the years in Newfoundland…
Granted, there has been the odd leadership convention produced by all three parties that has caused barely a ripple of public interest; the acclamation of leaders, as a couple of examples, like Ed Byrne and Kathy Dunderdale, were not exactly historical barn-burners, although Byrne relinquished his post for the Messiah Danny before eventually donning prison garb as a member of the Convicts Four. And Dunderdale, well, Dunderdale carried the stench of Muskrat created by Dan the Man straight into a financial sewer, and departed politics in disgrace.
But it’s been, by and large, a legitimate proposition that leadership conventions get the political juices flowing in Newfoundland.
And the gods of politics are certainly aware that the Tories and the NDP are scrambling for a way to appeal to all those voters out there who might be persuaded, fairly easily, it would appear, to switch allegiance from the governing Liberals; a party many seem to pick with a near-apathetic “what the hell?” rationale for the pollsters who come a-calling, and headed by a premier, Dwight Ball, who has never really caught on with the electorate, and probably never will, remaining, as he does, as popular as that first post-Christmas Visa bill.
So, the planets are aligned for the PCs and the NDP, are they not? A government that conceivably could be knocked off its precarious perch on Confederation Hill in the next election, and publicity-generating April conventions for two parties seeking to portray themselves as alternatives to the plodding Ball crowd (who managed just recently to mangle a Crown corporation firing and turn it into an expensive, public relations disaster).
The timing is right.
But hold on for a moment. What’s that you say, Mrs. Robinson?
“Going to the candidates debate.
Laugh about it. Shout about it.
When you’ve got to choose.
Every way you look at it you lose.”
Simon and Garfunkel’s cynical take on politics is obviously an exaggerated comparison on my part to the 2018 scene here in this smiling land of ours, but just ponder, for a moment, the names on the Tory and NDP ballots two months from now of the people those parties would have us believe can raise this place up from the abyss of despair: Ches Crosbie, Tony Wakeham and Gerry Rogers, the moose man with the right genes, an unknown, former bureaucrat, and a politician many still remember as having played a prominent role in her own party’s untimely implosion.
I don’t know about you, but I’m making sure my calendar is wide open in April so I can absorb the excitement those leadership candidates will prompt in every nook and cranny of Newfoundland and Labrador.
Then again, if Dwight Ball could make it to the top…
“God bless you please, Mrs. Robinson.
Heaven holds a place for those who pray.
Hey, hey, hey.
Hey, hey, hey.”
Bob Wakeham has spent more than 40 years as a journalist in Newfoundland and Labrador. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org