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BRIAN JONES: Political manipulation of Newfoundlanders never stops

Surrounded by supporters and Liberal MHAs, Premier Dwight Ball kicks off the campaign Wednesday in the lobby of Confederation Building for the provincial election to be held May 16.
Surrounded by supporters and Liberal MHAs, Premier Dwight Ball kicks off the campaign last week in the lobby of Confederation Building for the provincial election to be held May 16. - David Maher

If you’re among the Newfoundlanders who are wondering why the provincial election is being held in May instead of in November, here is the answer: it is in the Liberal party’s best interest.

Never mind what is best for the province, or best for the electorate, or best for democracy, i.e., respecting the process set in legislation. The Liberals will do — and did — what is best for the Liberals.

Newfoundland’s fixed-date election law sets the second Tuesday of October as provincial election day, every four years. Newfoundlanders should be going to the polls on Oct. 8, not on May 16.

But Premier Dwight Ball, being the Liberal in charge, deemed Newfoundlanders — voters and campaigners alike — incapable of dealing with two elections within a several-week span. The federal election is due to occur on or before Oct. 21.

The possibility of provincial and federal elections occurring close together and thus overwhelming the simpletons who are entrusted with casting ballots was in fact foreseen by the wise drafters of the province’s legislation, who decreed that, in the event of such a conflict, the Newfoundland vote could instead take place on the last Monday of November of the same year.

Thus, you may recall, Newfoundlanders went to the polls on Nov. 30, 2015. The federal election that year was held Oct. 19. The six-week gap was apparently enough for voters and campaigners to control confusion and replenish energy.

It will be beneficial to Ball and his Liberals if the most recent hearings of the Muskrat Falls Inquiry are freshly echoing in voters’ minds.

This year, the provincial election — bumped out of October by an impending federal election — should have been held on Nov. 25. The span between the federal and provincial elections would have been at least five weeks. Could Newfoundland voters have handled the pressure? Could they have distinguished between federal and provincial campaign signs? Could they have kept the candidates and issues straight in their simple minds? Possibly.

Ball, not willing to risk it, moved the election date to May 16.

By happy coincidence — for surely that is all it can be — a spring election also offers all sorts of advantages to the premier and his provincial Liberals.

Ball’s buddy in Ottawa, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, has sailed his good ship Liberal onto the rocks and has a fair-to-good chance of being sunk or marooned with a minority in the coming federal election.

Trudeau’s defeat or decline, mere weeks before a provincial election, would not bode well for the local Reds. Better to change the date to May 16 and avoid the possibility of a federal setback from influencing the provincial vote.

It would also be beneficial to Ball and his Liberals if the most recent hearings of the Muskrat Falls Inquiry were freshly echoing in voters’ minds. The Muskrat Falls financial disaster hovers over Progressive Conservatives and Liberals alike, and Ball’s strategy of blaming solely the Tories will be more successful if voters can still hear the testimony of the parade of former PC premiers and cabinet ministers who didn’t know, were never told, did not ask, couldn’t remember, etc.

On the other hand, a November election would have dimmed the memory of those pathetic answers in voters’ minds, killing their natural inclination to be repulsed by the thought of another Tory administration.

Notice, also, that Ball has not yet testified at the inquiry. By November, he would have. Ball is scheduled to testify at the inquiry July 4-5. Thus, he has a good chance of being returned to the premier’s office a good six weeks before anyone at the inquiry asks him the question that destroys his strategy of blaming the Tories: “Mr. Ball, why didn’t you cancel the Muskrat Falls project?”

A November election would have given the beleaguered electorate four months to ponder the possibility that the Tories, first, and the Liberals, second, both foisted the economy-busting boondoggle upon them.

But for sheer crass connivance, the Liberals’ supposed budget day quickly followed by the election call is worthy of entering the annals of manipulation mastery, an election ploy blatantly crude even by Newfoundland’s low standards.

Brian Jones is a desk editor at The Telegram. He can be reached at brian.jones@thetelegram.com.


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