11 February 2013

The Latest Candidate Who Never Was #nlpoli

CBC news reported last week that Scott Simms won;t be pursuing the provincial Liberal leadership.

That’s no surprise because the federal member of parliament was never really thinking about becoming a candidate.

If you look at the story in late January and now you cans ee something else.

Here’s the way CBC ran the story back on January 28:.

CBC News has learned that a group of Newfoundland and Labrador Liberal organizers has been trying to convince Bonavista-Gander-Grand Falls-Windsor MP Scott Simms to seek the provincial party leadership.

Sources say Simms will meet with party supporters this week in Ottawa to discuss the possibility of launching a leadership bid.

Simms has previously said he wasn't interested in the job.

They reported as a matter of fact that an unidentified “group” of party “organizers” were working on Simms.  The same story aired on  Here and Now, Jan 28.

And here’s the most recent story

Liberal MP Scott Simms announced that he is not pursuing the provincial Liberal leadership bid, following speculation in January that party organizers had approached him about the position. [emphasis added]

From concrete to speculation, with no explanation of the change.

Now it was a weak enough story in the first place that producers buried it at the start of the second half of Here and Now in January.  Provincial affairs reporter David Cochrane had lots of cautionary comments in his stand-up report.  Simms basically went from being not interested in the job to being at least willing to listen to a pitch of some kind.

As Simms put it in a weekend interview with David Cochrane, he entertained the idea and spoke to a few people.  He didn’t assemble a team or start raising money.  The reasons he listed – family, finances,  and federal priorities – were all ones Simms knew going into the conversations.  Not surprisingly, Simms never left the course he was on before someone came up with the brain fart of trying to get him to run.

What you have here is yet another example of candidates who exist more in peoples’ imaginations and media speculation than they do in reality.  None of them have ever taken a single concrete step that a potential candidate would take. Some have had very little involvement with the party or their involvement and their interests are predominantly federal, not provincial.

And yet for all those details that are obvious to anyone vaguely familiar with local politics, their names crop up on lists of potential candidates. Dean MacDonald is the most obvious example of that.  That probably says more about the people making up the lists as anything.

In his interview with Simms, Cochrane listed off some of those fictitious candidates:  Antle, Coady, McDonald and the like.  Cochrane didn’t refer to them as imaginary or fictitious because Cochrane thinks they are real.  All those people have bowed out of the race (even though they were never in it), so why is it that no one wants the job, asked Cochrane.

Well, several someones want the leader job, as it turns out, so Cochrane’s question was preposterous on the face of it.  Interim leader Dwight Ball is already getting ready for a run. Danny Dumaresque might have a go and we will likely see St. Barbe MHA Jim Bennett taking a run again for a job he briefly held in 2006. One or two others might come forward. As it happens, though, the people interested in leading the provincial Liberal Party are just not one of the cool kids, one of these supposed “star” candidates that people who fancy themselves to be insiders prefer to talk about.

If you want to know exactly how much that January 28 story was just so much hype, take a listen to an interview Scott Simms did with the Central Morning Show on January 30.   Simms was frank about the issues working against him getting involved.  He put the obstacles up front. 

Simms noted in late January that he would give the proposal from these unnamed individuals some serious consideration.  His answer is very smartly political:  he has been interested in politics all his life.  He would be interested in running in order to become Premier because that is an important job.  He wouldn’t rule anything out but he’d be making a decision quickly because anything else would be pure ego.

And Simms refused to rule out a try at the leadership some other time like towards 2019 because – as Simms acknowledges – a good politician never rules anything out.  This whole story seems to have come out of nothing more than that kind of response back in late January.  You can imagine the texts, e-mails or even the phone calls that led to someone like Cochrane talking to Simms.  The federal politician gave a politician’s answer and that was enough to run a “CBC News has learned” story that a couple of weeks later gets reduced to “speculation.”

Meanwhile, the real Liberal Party story is somewhere else.

No one is declaring for the leadership race yet because the race doesn’t exist.  The party executive is apparently hung up over the rules such that they haven’t given any indication when they might actually announce when the campaign will start.  There’s been talk within the party leadership about the venue, with some noting that it makes no sense to have an enormous, expensive convention hall for an election that will be run over the Internet and by telephone.

And then there’s money.  Scott Simms gave David Cochrane the standard line:  the debt will be cleared off quickly.  The reality is that the party laid off its executive director before Christmas because it didn’t have any money.  The money problem is huge and it is not just the debt that everyone keeps talking about.  That’s got to go and it is every bit of $800,000.

The party also needs a war chest for the 2015 election.  Peg that at around $1.0 million on the low end or more like $1.5 million to be comfortable.

And then there is the money to run things every year.  Peg that at $300,000 at least for everything from office space (not paid for by the federal party) to staff to detailed research on issues and voters to the tracking software that forms the heart of a modern campaign. The provincial Liberals have none of that.


All told, the party has to come up with a million dollars every year from now until 2015.  Since they haven’t sorted out the leadership yet, the Liberal leadership team won’t even start thinking about election readiness until some time into 2014.  That would be less than 24 months before the election. 

That assumes, as everyone assumes, that the next election will actually be in 2015.  If there’s an election before then, the Liberals are royally and truly frigged because no one in the party has bothered to do anything to get ready for any general election, by-election, or straw poll for years. That’s right: years.

Even in the supposedly reinvigorated Liberal Party after the 2011 general election, the party is clearly having a hard time focusing.  Dwight Ball has been leader for a year. If pollsters didn’t mentioned Ball by name and tell respondents he is the Liberal leader, odds are that no one would be able to name him.

To give you an example of the Liberal Party’s problem consider two aspects of the Bill 29 filibuster.  By all accounts, the Liberals drove the filibuster. Dwight Ball, however, got very little media coverage.  For a while, it seemed as if he had left the province. Evidently, the Liberals were not working the filibuster to maximise their political advantage.  if that wasn’t bad enough, the Liberals didn’t undertake any fundraising of the kind most parties these days consider routine.

You can see the impact of the Liberal failure during the filibuster in the MQO opinion polls. The Liberals got a modest bump upward during the session.  But the big winner at the end of the session and in the months afterward was the NDP. 

The Liberals actually dropped once the House closed.  By August of 2012, the Liberals were at something like 12% or thereabouts. While the Liberals have climbed back up since then, they are only slightly above their peak earlier in the year.

MQO 12 month

Still, all of that means nothing if the party isn’t ready for a campaign. And the Liberals aren’t ready.  Nor are they getting ready to get ready.

In the meantime, though, at least people can be entertained with  candidates touted as being real but ultimately proving to be much like one super-fictitious candidate floated in August 2011

How come no one has put Rick Hillier’s name in play yet?