16 October 2011

Whither the Liberals #nlpoli

[revised and edited 4:45 PM]

The tale is not told in the view of columnists  - Stephen Maher, Chantal Hebert and Susan Delacourt - who try to link a series of different events into one explanation.

The tale is told in the comment of one long-time Liberal who bumped into another in St. John’s recently.

The Liberal Party doesn’t speak to me any more, said one.

Exactly, exclaimed the other.

The Liberal Party may have won six seats in last Tuesday’s general election but it stands at an historic low.  Only 11% of the electorate in Newfoundland and Labrador voted Liberal on Tuesday.

Voters in Newfoundland and Labrador looking for something other than the ruling Conservatives opted for the New Democrats last Tuesday and they did so in record numbers.

They did it in St. John’s for the most part but also in Burin-Placentia West,  Labrador West and The Straits-White Bay North. 

While the New Democrat resurgence is a subject for another day, the key thing for this post is which party voters chose last Tuesday and it was not the party that dominated politics in this province for so much of the post-Confederation period.

The reason is simple:  the Liberal Party does not speak to them any more.

A decade or so ago, the dominant voices in the party shifted to an increasingly rural focus on the party.  The Blame Canada commission with its pile of old axes reground was symptomatic of the shift.  So too was the resurgence of make-work as a core government policy for rural parts of the province and the transfer of government offices to major centres outside Capital City.

In this most recent election, ruralism took centre stage in the party’s platform.  And the leader the party executive chose overwhelming was not just committed to the ruralist agenda: he started out the election by loudly proclaiming his fierce “nationalist” sentiment.

Some may blame the Liberal fortunes on the last-minute change of leadership.  Others will focus on the impact of what appeared to be the most ineptly run campaign in provincial political history. 

Both had their part to play but both the campaign and the focus were already in train before the executive board picked Kevin Aylward.  And, if anything, Aylward did not apparently want to shift the dominant internal party trends so much as reinforce them

Aylward is scarcely any different from Yvonne Jones who fixated on the idea that building a Stunnel to Labrador was the winning party policy.  Party insiders fought to keep it out of her convention speech and her Facebook posting during the campaign was nothing more than a last-ditch effort to push the stunnedest of stunned ideas.

Beyond the ruralist core, the Liberal Party simply does not know what it stands for. 

In the last election, the party became the nothing more than a political sideshow.  There were plenty of contortionists: cast-offs from other parties abounded.  There was a star of the open line shows.  A perennial favourite of the political fringes stage-mothered a couple of her current charges through their political appearances on the ballot rather than run herself.  A few students came along for good measure as did staffers hounded relentlessly until they agreed to be names on ballots at their own expense.

The only thing missing was the sword swallower.

The Liberal party does not speak to anyone, anymore.

The people running the party seem to have no desire to speak to anyone other than themselves out there on the tattered edges of the provincial political landscape.

They are so far out in the political woods, they’d have to come in to hunt.

What’s worse, though, is that they seem to have lost the desire to hunt.

You can see that in the party after the election.

The leader disappeared.

The party president popped up to do a couple of interviews about the latest leadership crisis.

But while political life carried on, and issues and targets abounded, the party fell completely silent.  Shameful comments by the Premier about the legislature went unchallenged by Liberals. 

They said nothing about anything that truly mattered in the province and in the stuff that mattered only to the people involved in the party, they said little.

The Liberal party no longer speaks to the people of the province.

And, as it seems, the party doesn’t even speak to itself any more either.  Maybe the few of them still out in the political woods need to take heed of that. 

The rest of us [in the province] already have.

- srbp -