29 March 2012

They’re baaaack #nlpoli

Last December, your humble e-scribbler told you about the Liberal party’s renewal committee.

Well, it’s back, or it will be back according to an anonymous source quoted by the Telegram on Monday.

The thing was going to involve Dean Macdonald, Siobhan Coady and Kevin Aylward.  They would travel around the province listening to people and then report back at some point in the future to the party’s executive board. And then at some point after that all that listening and reporting would produce something called “renewal”.

Now the idea is still alive but, according to the Telly’s source, …

sources in the party indicate since then the project has grown, and when the announcement happens, it will likely include more prominent party members, and representation from different regions of the province.

There’s no talk of a deadline or a timeline according to the source.  The committee will just go on a do whatever it is they will do.

Two things stand out. 

First – what your humble e-scribbler said before Christmas still stands:

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.

Adding more people to the committee or putting different people on the committee doesn’t change the fact it is still a committee that apparently lacks a focus, direction or purpose. 

So while they are off listening, lots of things are happening while the Liberals reach around in the dark trying to find themselves. 

Telegram editor Russell Wangersky described the party’s performance in the legislature in stark but honest and accurate terms.

Truly effective oppositions not only know the questions they’re asking, but they often have some knowledge of the answers, too.

Then, when governments prevaricate or trot out a handful of off-point bluster, the opposition members go outside the House and give the media the answers the government has been avoiding.

It’s a pretty simple formula, really. The goal is to establish credibility so that voters will see the opposition as a viable alternative in the next election.  The problem for the Liberals is that – very obviously – they just aren’t interested in getting back into power.

Government backbencher or opposition member, the gig is pretty sweet.  No heavy lifting and you are in out of the weather.  And these days you don’t have to show up very often.  You aren’t expected to know much of anything about anything.  There’s plenty of patronage to hand out if you are a government member and that’s what helps to put the votes in the box these days. Wangersky notes the speeches about money for the district. Patronage is why. 

There’s a good reason why the Tories went along with the House allowances scheme the Liberals proposed in the late 1990s. And there’s a reason they not only kept it going after 2003 but didn’t slack off until the Auditor General’s boys tripped over it.

Leave aside the criminals and look at the rest of the members.  The House allowances scheme was all about patronage, about handing out goodies in the district, about bringing back the spoils.  Chief Justice Green nailed it in his report.  The Telegram did, too, even if the truth went up Kathy Dunderdale’s nose sideways.

And on the opposition benches, the motivation is basically the same.  You could be assured that the government boys would look after you, too, even if the amount was less than what the government boys got. They’d toss road work and other stuff your way as long as you stood up and thanked them loudly in the House.

Then you can turn around and issue a news release about the wonderful pork you’ve been able to bring back for your peeps from the big treasure pile in Sin Jawns. 

The same sort of co-operation among the incumbents explains a lot of things, including the special ballots scheme from 2007.  Anything that helps incumbents stay in office is good, regardless of what party the incumbent represents. 

That community self-interest among the insiders is why the people who have been fighting hardest against the anti-democratic trends of the past decade aren’t Liberals or Tories. The only politicians fighting about sitting days or special ballots are New Democrats.  In Newfoundland and Labrador politics, Dippers are the ultimate outsiders.

That might wind up working for them, but that’s all something for another time.  For now, just understand that the Liberals are in no danger of suddenly catching fire politically.  The party apparatus is going to have a committee jerking off across the province.  meanwhile, the caucus is impressing no one in the House.

Second - consider that all this news for the Telly came from an unnamed source.  Someone disgruntled or someone who fancies himself an insider bent on proving it?  Either way, this sort of anonymous leaking is the sign of an amateur act.  it’s a big clue that the Liberals lack the internal cohesion and internal discipline needed to form a viable political party. 

Without the kind of professionalism successful political parties display, the Liberals are destined to stay exactly where they are, even if by some miracle the “renewal” committee manages to do something useful.

- srbp -