From December 2007, a comment by then-fish minister Loyola Hearn on the sour relationship between the crowd of Conservatives in Sin Jawns and the crowd of Conservatives in Ottawa:
"There are times I'm sure I know as much as what's going on in cabinet and caucus or on the eighth floor as the premier does," said Hearn, referring to Williams's office in Confederation Building in St. John's.
"I always do. That's why we can always be one step ahead of him," Hearn said in a year-end interview with CBC News. "I have friends throughout cabinet and caucus."That doesn’t mean Loyola is Deep T’roat. What it shows is that the idea is already there of some measure of tension and dissent within Conservative circles.
At the time, Danny Williams dismissed the idea [of traitorous dissent within the ranks] with characteristic bluster. The faithful deployed, too, with their now-signature set of over-the-top messages, delivered in one example by permits and licenses minister Kevin O’Brien.
But still, that didn’t stop Hisself from demanding every member of his caucus swear a sort of loyalty oath during the 2008 federal election and the Family Feud that caused massive discontent within the party. That was about 10 months after Hisself dismissed the whole of idea of loose caucus and cabinet lips in the first place and, on a go forward basis it seemed to telegraph a huge level of unease or uncertainty.
After all, if their loyalty was unquestionable – the essence of the December claim – then it seems odd to question it at all let alone in a way which someone leaked to the local media. Beth Marshall – now a senator – is the only one who said she wouldn’t support the anti- federal campaign.
Contacted by The Telegram via e-mail at the time, only six Conservatives would give an answer publicly. The rest of the Tory caucus ignored it, apparently, although the Telegram piece does end with an interesting reference:
Outgoing federal cabinet minister Loyola Hearn has charged that the premier's office is threatening those who may aid the federal Conservatives, citing "a growing number of calls we have received from concerned caucus members and Progressive Conservative staffers."
Williams has denied the allegation.You see, it is interesting because it matches up with what was going around the local Tory circles at the time. There were a great many, for example, in St. John’s South-Mount Pearl who were extremely upset that Kathy Dunderdale, Paul Oram and other prominent local Tories were out door-knocking for the Liberal in the riding.
The idea of friction within the provincial Conservative camp isn’t new. Some of it has been known to flare up in public. And in 2008, don’t forget, St. John’s South is where the Tory vote didn’t stay home like it did in other ridings. By all appearances and indications, a goodly chunk of the Conservative vote did head to the polls. And voted overwhelmingly for the Orange candidate.
That definitely was not the officially sanctioned Family Feud choice.
10 years is a long time to crush every bit of difference and ambition in a crowd of ambitious political types. A decade is a long time to demand unquestioning obedience or face the consequences of cashiering or a miserable seat.
And even if that weren’t true, there is still the fairly obvious unease resulting from both the by-election loss last fall and the fairly obvious fact the win in the other seat required every member of caucus and a whole lot of political staffers in order to hang onto what should have been a safe seat and an easy win.
“Atrophy” was one word used privately by someone who ought to know in order to describe what has happened to the district-level party machinery across the province.
There’s something to be said for that. It’s pretty bizarre to shut down a government for a couple of months to fight two by-elections. Historically in this province, incumbent parties can usually manage to walk and chew electoral gum simultaneously. Work gets delegated and the Leader/Premier and senior cabinet get deployed only as needed.
And it’s not like Hisself didn’t say loudly and clearly and repeatedly in 2006 – although it seemed like everyone missed it – that he wouldn’t be hanging around for the Hat Trick.
10 years is a long time in politics anywhere.
And it’s a long time for people to be studying how things work in practice. Size up the strengths and weaknesses.
And then lay in wait to take advantage of a golden opportunity.