13 December 2011

The Crowd in the Dark #nlpoli

Dwight Ball will become the new leader of the Liberal Party of Newfoundland and Labrador this week.  Expect an announcement on Thursday.

There’ll be no “interim” about it.

Ball is the leader until the party’s executive board decides on whether or not to find someone else to fill the job.  They won’t do that until some time early next year.

There’s no real news in any of that, by the way.  Variations on that theme have been in the news for a couple of weeks.  The only new information is when the announcement takes place.

What will be news on Thursday will be the announcement of a reform committee comprising Kevin Aylward, Siobhan Coady and Dean MacDonald.  They will do something  - it hasn’t been nailed down, apparently - at their own expense and bring back a report or recommendations or something – that too is apparently up in the air – on how to get the Liberal Party back in fighting trim.

Word of this committee sends a clear message. Party president Judy Morrow can talk all she wants on CBC’s On Point about how the Liberal Party just went through “a horrific time“ of an election campaign.  Such talk would suggest that people running the party know they can’t keep going on as they have been going. This committee is all about avoiding change.

The executive board picked Kevin Aylward to replace Yvonne Jones last August because he promised very little change. Kevin fit right in, touting an archaic fisheries policy as the centrepiece of the campaign. He started out wanting to endorse Muskrat Falls and only came around to opposing it once he realised that it might get some votes here or there. 

Some have tried to claim Kevin added two seats to the Liberal roster.  He didn’t.   What the party actually did was lose two seats it already held – not Kevin’s fault – and failed utterly to capitalise on possibilities in several others.

Kevin didn’t bring anyone along who might have changed the party’s direction. Nor was he, himself, inclined to do so.  And that is the bony nub of the problem with Kevin Aylward on a committee about renewal, reform or rebuilding. a fellow selected because he represented no threat of change cannot be an agent for change.

As for the other two members of the committee, their selection suggests the same thing. In her brief political career, Siobhan Coady has shown herself to be mind-numbingly conventional.  She seldom offers an observation on anything that has not already been offered in a thousand other places. Take her recent remarks on the provincial fisheries mess as a classic example of that.

Ditto Dean MacDonald.  A smart guy, without question.  Personable and enthusiastic for sure. A go-getter, definitely.  But Dean comes across as someone who is unfocused politically and generally unaware of the inner workings of the Liberal Party.  As such there’s no sign he has any inclination for substantive change.

If the committee travels around and meets with people, individually or in groups, odds are they will hear all sorts of things.

Lots of people will talk about district organizations, for example.  Former candidates will talk about the need to get nominations done earlier so they can organize themselves.  Others will talk about the need to have “grass roots”.

The problem with those ideas is that none of it means that people are actually attracted to the party and will do the ground-work any party needs to fight and win an election. The party can get names on paper,  just like it has been able to find token candidates for the past three elections.  Getting people to do anything is another matter.

The problem with those ideas is that the party runs itself as though every district belonged to every candidate.  There is no continuity.  There is no party organization.  There is – in truth – no party in the sense of people who all belong to a group built around a shared set of ideas or values.

The Liberals Party does not speak to anyone about anything any more. Until someone from the party can offer a compelling reason why someone should get involved with the Liberals, nothing else matters.

The problem with those ideas is that – ultimately - there isn’t much chance that three people not known for their interest in change are likely to find secrets no one else found.  And if, by some miracle, these people do trip over the odd good idea, odds are better the idea will get buried under a pile of other stuff that is all about staying the same, not change.

After all the same people responsible for deciding are themselves a committee.  Committees, you see, are what people set up when they want to make it look like something is happening when it really isn’t.  Or they set up a committee in order to delay making a decision because they don’t know what to do. 

While the committee is out looking, stuff happens that sets the course.  The stuff that happens could be accident or it could be a petty intrigue here or there.  But incrementally things happen while the committee is meeting such that whatever the committee decides, their work is irrelevant anyway.

If the Liberals knew what to do or had a general idea of where to go, they’d do it.  Instead, they have adopted – in essence -  the fisheries MOU process.  That was a committee by another name and look at how successfully that worked out. 

In the meantime, the Liberals are like a crowd in the dark.  No one can see beyond the end of his or her fingers.  They wander around groping for something. Some of them stumble off and run into other people and don’t come back.

None of the rest will stray too far from where he started or than he can see.  As a result, they all wind up no more than a few feet away from each other shuffling around the ground they all know intimately from having trod on it over and over again for years.

None of them know where they are going.  They all keep asking each other what to do next.  And around and around in circles they go. None of them really knows where the rest of the community is, either.  They  still cling to the memory of a time when they were part of a huge group.  In truth, everyone else in the community has gone off in other directions.  The Liberals just can’t see that.  The room is dark, after all. 

And while the Liberals can hear noises in the distance, the crowd of them won’t – not can’t, they will not  - move toward the noises.   Instead, they stagger around in the dark, their numbers dwindling, waiting for someone to show up with a flashlight.

They have formed a committee of three, we shall learn on Thursday,  to check to see if anyone among them found a flashlight or maybe a few old batteries with some juice left in them.

What are the odds that will work?

- srbp -