26 April 2010

Kremlinology 20: Who will replace Danny?

There’s a question that will likely be on the lips of most Newfoundlanders and Labradorians within 12 months.

Even if, by some strange set of circumstances, he decides to subject himself to another two full years of the kind of public ingratitude he’s seen over the past nine months, Danny Williams will likely have an increasingly hard time suppressing speculation about when he will retire and who will replace him. 

People may not have readily accepted the idea that someone in his own inner circle blew away the Premier’s plan to keep his heart surgery secret. But think of events of the past few months -  let alone the bizarre meltdown last week – and you can’t hit the local mall without finding someone wondering how much longer the Old Man will be around.

When Danny heads off to Ottawa later this week for a round of meetings on a bunch of subjects, it might be fun just to kick back and wonder who in the crowd he left behind has designs on his office.

Take Jerome Kennedy, for instance.  He’s got all the buzz of an heir apparent. Aside from the moustache incident earlier the year, Jerome has been trying to change his appearance and, by extension, the appearance of government from one of combativeness and nastiness to something a little more palatable.

But we’d all be pretty naive if we didn’t think Jerome knows already that he will have to present himself as a major change of style in order to succeed Williams. There are likely other things going on out of plain site.  The little political favours for people whose support he will need.  A job here, there and everywhere someone in the public service for his supporters.

Others are likely up to the same thing.

Like Joan Burke.  Creating a new department for her to set up has given her plenty of time to travel around the province meeting with public servants in the day and local Tories in the evening.  She’s reputed to have a war chest as big as her ambition. Plus, the new department allows her to soften up her tough-as-concrete image.

There are probably a few other caucus contenders quietly putting together their bands of supporters. 

Permits and licenses minister Kevin O’Brien at least looks like he has the Grecian formula for a run.  He may well have some cash and supporters left over from his abortive run the year Danny decided to go for it.  O’Brien was party president in 2000 but took a leave of absence as he contemplated taking a shot at the leadership.  Once Danny entered the race, Kevin knew enough to leave it alone.  He’d be a really long shot but then again, any potential candidate can always look to the 1989 long shot:  Tom Rideout.

Then there’s Tommy Osborne.  Scion of the townie Tory power family, Osborne’s name pops up in some conversations about potential leadership candidates after The Old Man leaves.  If nothing else he came out of the Cameron inquiry looking pretty good.  Osborne could  make a mark, even if he didn’t win, and that might be enough:  whoever wins the race will have to reward his or her competitors with decent cabinet jobs or risk civil war. Osborne could enjoy a second career in cabinet and still retire relatively young.

Don’t be surprised if Ross Wiseman or Darin King took a shot at the job or at least considered it. 

Other that that there aren’t any members of the current caucus who seem likely to run to replace Danny.  Natural resources minister Kathy Dunderdale is likely to leave at the end of this term as is finance minister Tom Marshall.

As for the idea of an outsider coming in, that would be a long shot for sure.  Brian Tobin was the last one to try it and win from outside caucus.  But he started making his move quietly in late 1995 and was a politician the whole time. No one has ever come cold  - completely outside elected politics - into the top job in the incumbent party and hence the province.

One name you can cross off your list:  Wade Verge.  Seems his move away from the door was just a temporary, almost cruel jokePaul Davis, the most junior member of the legislature and the Tory caucus, now has the plum bit of seal skin vacated by Beth Marshall’s now senatorial tuchus.  Evidently someone really likes Davis.

Kremlinology is an inexact science.