Appointing Ross Reid as her chief of staff is probably the smartest thing Premier Kathy Dunderdale has ever done and will ever do.
Reid is an experienced political operator with extensive connections and reputation for bringing people together successfully.
Given all the other decisions Dunderdale has made in her political career, especially since the Williams brothers made her Premier, that’s why this one just does not fit.
Reid was chief of staff to John Crosbie when Crosbie was federal finance minister. He’s been a federal cabinet minister. After the 1993 federal election. Reid spent time promoting democratic development around the globe. A decade later, he came back to Newfoundland and Labrador and took up a series of appointments with the Conservative government.
On paper, Reid was deputy minister to the Premier from 2003 from 2007 but there’s no sign Reid’s eminent political sensibility in any of the hyper-partisan, hyper-aggressive, and ultimately unproductive tactics the Conservatives used on the federal government and anyone else who irked the Old Man.
His extensive political contacts in Ottawa made him the logical choice to run intergovernmental affairs, but instead, the Conservatives stuck him in backwaters like the department of Penny Rowe or, more recently, the population growth strategy.
Dunderdale’s office has been the source of chronic problems since 2010. Her personal choice for chief of staff stumbled through a series of horrendous political ideas. His political career ended abruptly a couple of weeks ago. That - and the delay in announcing his replacement - suggests no one expected him to go now. Dunderdale is now on her third set of communications staff, having moved her partisan communications director into a public service position from which she still posts partisan comments via Twitter. Not surprisingly, the most recent polls put the once mighty Conservatives in the third place, behind both the New Democrats and Liberals.
The source of these problems, of course, is Dunderdale herself. She picked or approved all her own staff. She took their advice even when objective evidence would have easily suggested the party was in very serious political trouble.
Reid’s appointment could mean that Dunderdale plans to stick around. Given the fact Reid doesn’t fit with Dunderdale’s sexist preferences for senior appointments – he is male, after all – this looks like an appointment forced on Dunderdale by the party, the caucus or both.
Reid offers the Conservatives one solid chance to rebuild and put up a politically sophisticated fight in 2015, regardless of who is heading the administration. At the same time, he can also help with Muskrat Falls no matter whether they proceed with it – the lunatic option - or cut their losses and dump the mess while they have the chance.
The Conservatives have two years to fix things.
Putting Ross Reid in the most senior political position in the administration is the smartest move any of them have made in ages.