01 December 2010


NTV’s Michael Connors isn’t a flashy reporter but he is a solid performer, day-in, day-out.

He doesn’t work for the news outlet everyone loves to hate, but then again, NTV manages to score solid news hits time after time.

One of his reports on November 26 was an overview of the political landscape in the province after Danny Williams. It includes an observation that Kathy Dunderdale and the next Tory leader after her may well face a fractious caucus.

That’s true.  Danny Williams ran a tight ship not because he was a populist, as Memorial University professor Alex Marland claims, but because he ruled with an iron hand. 

People in Williams’ caucus – and it was his caucus, not a Conservative Party caucus - saw time after time his enthusiasm in attaching people for the tiniest of alleged transgressions and his willingness to go to war with Fabian Manning over what, apparently, was a mix-up in which manning brother was thinking of running federally.

With that gone and with the pent up egos of  a few really ambitious politicians about to display themselves for the first time in seven years, it all might wind up like some sort of Spring Break in Fort Lauderdale meets Mardi Gras. 

More likely, though, the problems won’t be with caucus discipline.  There might be people who start speaking a bit too freely about their own opinions as opposed to standing with their team. 

More likely, the problems will come as the campaign heats up and leading contenders start to smash into each other.  Things are pretty civilised so far, but then again what is happening right now is only a few notches above the simmering undeclared war that’s been going on for months.

Supposedly, prospective late-comer candidates are making calls gauging support while the ones who’ve already decided to run are starting to take the wrappers off their teams.  Those people are making calls on behalf of candidates like Joan Burke, she who has had a war chest for some time.

The object of her likely aggression will be Jerome Kennedy.  His coy comments about maybe not wanting to be the man who follows the man are just talk.  He’s got people salted away throughout government and it would be a complete surprise if he didn’t run at this point. 

There is still the outside possibility the Tories will try to emulate the Tobin coup in 1996, but odds are against it.  A crew got Tobin into place before potential leaders  like John Efford even started.  They could then head into a quickie election and carry on from there.

The Tories don’t seem to function like that.  In 1989, they opted for battle-axes to the sides of each other’s heads. Not a good move, as it turned out. The warfare lasted well into the next decade and really didn’t disappear until Danny showed up as the saviour in 2000.

In 1979, they had a large battle that ended successfully in several respects.  But that was a completely different caucus both in style and substance from the current Tory one. For one thing, the incoming leader could remake the party and take it to further success.

What does Danny’s replacement do?  There could be an anti-Danny who tries to disown his predecessor’s style and policies.  That’s got limited potential.  on the other hand there could well be a candidate who tries to pass himself or herself as the distilled essence of Danny;  all the anger but none of the depth.  Being more Danny than Danny isn’t likely to be a winnable strategy in some parts of the province either.

In any event, the whole thing will stay calm through Christmas.  Once the New Year arrives and the party figures out what it will do for a convention, all bets are off.

And in the end, the leadership will be about a simple proposition:  either the party changes or the voters will make a change for them.

- srbp -