08 November 2005

Tom Rideout - metaphor mangler extra-ordinary

The return of Tom Rideout to a position of considerable authority prompts an old political junkie to reminisce about some of Tom's glorious past.

Elected as a Liberal, Rideout crossed the floor in the early 1980s to sit with Brian Peckford around the cabinet table. There's an old Bill Rowe column in which he criticizes the local penchant for floor-walking among elected legislators. It used to make the rounds of local politicos every once in a while and I haven't seen it in years.

When Peckford packed it in in 1988, Rideout took a run at the leaders job and, after a hard campaign, eventually beat out the likes of Len Simms to sit in the Premier's Office. He created one of the largest cabinets in recent memory swelling the thing to 23 members, with assorted other members of caucus serving in various House positions or as parliamentary secretaries. The only legislators not receiving extra stipends had the misfortune of being in Opposition.

Rideout moved in, moved all Peckford's people out the door, and then dropped the writ in the hopes of winning a majority government against the Wells' Liberals.

Rideout lasted a total of 43 days as Premier, the shortest tenure of any Newfoundland first minister since the 1920s.

Three events or incidents stand out from 1989 that helped to define Tom Rideout in the minds of voters. I am not thinking about his incredibly awkward speaking style and his unease, nor am I talking about episodes like helicoptering into Placentia two days in a row toward the end of the campaign with nothing new to say on the second trip.

Nor am I talking about his leadership campaign chant "Ride In! Right On ! Rideout!"


First was Tom's comment that "a skunk can't change its spots". I have long forgotten the context but the mangled metaphor has stuck with me ever since. I thought about using that in the other post but the "skunk" reference seemed an unwarranted and entirely unintended comment on character.

Second was another one of his magic moments with the English language, this time from the televised debate. At one point, with ever ounce of self-confidence he could muster, Rideout challenged Wells on some point. He finished his remarks with the immortal words: "And that's backupable."

Third was actually a preplanned bit of campaigning. Rideout and the other leaders spoke to Memorial University students, where, predictably, Rideout trumpeted his government's commitment to post-secondary students. In the queue for the microphone was a MUN student and Liberal supporter. When she got her chance, she held aloft a cucumber and asked: "Does this look like a post-secondary education student to you, Mr. Rideout?" Great laugh from the crowd. An immortal political clip and yet another smack between the eyes for a Tory campaign that seemed prone to every manner of political cock-up imaginable.

There are plenty of little ones, most of which I have long since forgotten. There is one where Tom was speaking off-the-cuff but obviously thinking of the written word "divers" or the alternate spelling "diverse". He said the same word twice as if there were two different pronunciations and meanings. It was an obscure gaff only a few of us got, but for those that did, it was hysterically funny.

Rideout may not commit any of those embarrassing gaffes anymore, but there is always the possibility he will revert to his old ways when things get heated. One thing we can all count on: Rideout is viciously partisan and like all converts - like say John Crosbie - he will never miss a chance to blame anything he can on the guys who were there before him.

Unfortunately for Tom, as funny as it was to hear a cabinet minister from the days of the Roads for Rails deal crap on the deal he approved in cabinet, it is going to get even funnier if Tom starts blaming others for the problems he is currently facing: he's created his own problems, as usual.

Careful Tom, that might be loaded.