17 January 2011

Rick Hillier? Tim Powers? No thanks, say NL Tories

Whatever is going on in Newfoundland and Labrador these days certainly is politics but it most certainly is not democracy.

What is dizzying, to borrow Tim Powers’ word, is the pace at which the province’s Conservatives are trying to keep a back-room political plot hatched over Christmas from exploding into a catastrophe as large as Danny Williams’ polling numbers.

“Everyone should have a right to put their name on a ballot assuming they adhere to the rules,” write Tim Powers in the Globe and Mail last week.  That is certainly true but it assumes that the rules are clearly known or, to be more accurate faithfully applied by the “officials” who, after exampling Brad Cabana’s nomination documents, “decided they didn't fit the criteria set out by the party.”

Perhaps the most useful way to look at this political farce is to use not Brad Cabana as our test subject but no less a person than Tim Powers. 

You see, when Danny Williams took to his heels and fed the Confederation Building, Tim’s was one of the first names some people offered up as a potential replacement.

Some other contenders, like finance minister Tom Marshall and then-education minister Darin King said they would take the time over Christmas to talk with friends and family.  They’d come back after Christmas end let the world know what they’d decided.

By Friday, December 24, though, that had changed.  Marshall, King and presumed heir-apparent Jerome Kennedy held news conferences to say that they’d be backing Kathy Dunderdale instead. Dunderdale, you may recall, was supposed to be the interim leader and had indicated she had no interest in the job. 

Off went everyone to Christmas holidays.

Another minister dropped out and by December 30, Dunderdale wanted the job. Virtually the entire caucus, she said, backed her.

Curiously that was the same day the party announced it would accept nominations for leader until January 10. 

Now if either Tim or Rick Hiller – living in Ottawa, were still pondering their future, they certainly wouldn’t have had much time to get their papers in order.  By the time the party announced that it would accept nominations, the race was effectively over. That’s exactly the point that cabinet minister Ross Wiseman and his executive assistant made to Cabana on January 5.  Since the entire caucus and their district associations backed Dunderdale, the odds of winning were very slim.

Besides, wrote Chick Cholock, Wiseman’s executive assistant, a contested leadership would put at risk Danny Williams’ legacy. “We do not want a Party [sic] divided now that Danny has moved on,” wrote Cholock in an e-mail.”

None of the arguments Wiseman and other Conservatives have offered about Brad Cabana had anything to do with following rules or his quality has a candidate. 

They had everything to do with an apparent desire within the caucus to avoid a contested leadership fight of any kind.  In other words had Tim or Rick decided to go all-in  now that the caucus made a decision, they would almost surely have been met with exactly the same arguments that faced Cabana:

  1. They wouldn’t stand a chance since all the people now determined to be party members had already decided, and
  2. a leadership contest in itself created the risk of fracturing the party beyond repair.

The Conservatives could lose the October election, as Cholock suggested in an e-mail he sent Cabana before nominations closed on January 10.

Wiseman and others did slide in another interesting qualification that doesn’t appear anywhere in the Conservative Party constitution.  Cabana hadn’t lived in the province very long, Wiseman noted in a scrum he gave after Cabana revealed Cholock had visited him on January 5 to try and discourage him from running. Nor had Cabana been very active in party functions, apparently.  There are two other grounds by which both Tim Powers and Rick Hillier would be disqualified.

If you are tired of the tedium that is federal politics, there is a drama unfolding in Newfoundland and Labrador.  But  the party that Danny Williams built is hell bent on showing that what they are up to is about as far from democracy as Parliament Hill is from excitement.

- srbp -