There’s an old saying in politics. Political parties don’t win elections; governments lose them.
Our history is strewn with the corpses of regimes that outlived their usefulness. After 23 years of reigning supreme, Joey’s Liberals finally lost their stranglehold on near absolute power. By the early 1970s, the electorate was so turned off by the party they had remained loyal to since Confederation, the deep discontent guaranteed the once all-powerful party at least 17 years of wandering aimlessly in the political wilderness, while the Tories ruled the roost.
It was interesting and perhaps timely to see Brian Peckford resurface last week with his new book about the sun shining and have-not being no more. Despite his success with the Atlantic Accord, it was, in the end, Peckford’s obsession with Sprung and cucumbers that cost his successor, Tom Rideout, the 1989 election. Another example of a hitherto popular party wearing out its welcome with the voters. That coupled with the fact Clyde Wells was viewed as something of a Messiah-like figure, at least among loyal Liberals.
In this province, we like to see our political leaders take the odd stroll across our harbours without getting their feet wet. We like someone to take us by the hand and lead us to the promised land of milk, honey and have-province status.
Enter dashing Danny. Like his predecessors, premiers Moores, Peckford, Wells and Tobin, Williams knew when to get out of politics while the getting was good. Not that staying around would have been a problem for Williams, who some have already anointed, “our greatest premier,” even before history gets a chance to make its unbiased judgment.
Unlike some of his predecessors of both political stripes, Williams left his party in such great shape, it now has nowhere to go but down.
No doubt a charismatic leader like Williams is a hard act for anyone to follow.
Despite leading her party to a resounding victory in the last provincial general election, Kathy Dunderdale appears to be flopping around in those extra large shoes she was asked and subsequently chose to fill.
Recent polls have shown some considerable slippage in popularity for the governing party and its newly minted leader.
Then last week came another twist, which hinted Kathy’s ship of state may be heading into some rough waters, and so early in her maiden voyage.
Veteran PC stalwart Tom Osborne jumped ship and decided to sit as an independent, at least for now. Not exactly a cabinet heavyweight - currently he doesn’t even hold a seat at the cabinet table. But he is the longest serving Tory MHA in the House, which should count for something. After 16 years of reading from his party’s hymnbook, one doesn’t suddenly defect without some reason, selfish or not.
For his part, Osborne has cited Dunderdale’s leadership style, as well as being forced to support government policies he could not endorse among his reasons for leaving.
But the straw that broke Osborne’s back appears to be Bill 29, the controversial amendment to the province’s access to information laws, which broadly increased government secrecy and limited the public’s ability to view government records.
Despite his distaste for the legislation, Osborne did vote for it, explaining he had been told by a senior cabinet member that voting against it could mean repercussions. He claims he voted the way he did out of concern such repercussions could adversely affect his constituents.
MHAs being kept on a tighter leash from the premier’s office, and more political control within government, such as being forced to go through government ministers’ political staff, instead of directly to bureaucrats, were also impossible for Osborne to swallow.
For her part, the premier contends her decision not to include Osborne in her cabinet is at the root of his decision to leave.
Of course he denies that. And so the he said, she said continues unabated, along with the vitriol from members of the Tory caucus and cabinet, who have labeled their former bosom buddy as “dead wood,” and wished him “good riddance!”
Do the recent poles and defection mean that a tear is finally starting to appear in the curtain in the great Tory temple that Danny built?
Is the honeymoon already over for Kathy so early in her own first elected mandate?
With a comfortable majority in the House and with more than three years left to go in her current reign, it’s far to0 early to tell.
But as the infighting continues to surface, fur flies and heads roll, if there is no hockey season this year, Newfoundland voters can at least sit back and watch our other great blood sport - Newfoundland politics.
Do not adjust your sets.
– Bill Bowman, The Compass