Last week, municipal affairs minister Kevin “Fairity” O’Brien denied having anything to do with having a couple of New Democratic Party politicians “uninvited” from a community breakfast organized by the Gander Chamber of Commerce at the annual Festival of Flight.
O’Brien told reporters:
I don't hold any power over them as the MHA. I don't fund them. I can't pull their funding or anything like that. So the NDP nor anybody can say that.
This week, we learned that nothing could be further from the truth.
Barry Warren, the former president of the Gander chamber, told CBC Radio’s Central Newfoundland Morning Show that O’Brien threatened to slow down construction of a new school in the town if the chamber didn’t heed his wishes and turf the two NDP politicians from the breakfast.
CBC reported online that they “confirmed Warren's account with sources close to the chamber of commerce.”
What’s remarkable is not that O’Brien engaged in this sort of political thuggery or that he denied it and, in all likelihood will continue to deny despite the number of people who evidently confirmed it for CBC.
Nor is it remarkable that O’Brien is the only Conservative politician to carry on like this or that he only did it this one time. Over the next few days and weeks, other stories will emerge. People don’t carry on like this once. It’s a pattern of behaviour.
In O’Brien’s case there have been signs of it before, like his attack on the reporters who exposed problems in the provincial response to Hurricane Igor. Or his effort to stomp on municipal leaders last year over funding for towns in the province. In the most clear example, the Premier’s Office used O’Brien as part of a deliberate breach of the province’s privacy laws solely to advance the Conservatives’ partisan agenda. It doesn’t come much slimier than breaking the law to serve your own political ends.
O’Brien certainly isn’t the only Conservative who has practiced this form of intimidation. Ask the people in the district Snantony is in – to quote Fairity - after they voted for a candidate other than the Conservative in 2009. They suffered a rather obvious political put-up that ultimately saw the provincial government move the air ambulance base from St. Anthony to Goose Bay.
How about the other attacks on reporters who actually didn’t even break a news story that upset the Conservatives. Or yet other reporters. Then there are the attacks on people who did nothing but publicly state an opinion the Conservatives didn’t like.
You’ll notice, of course, that shutting down any public comment potentially critical of government was Fairity’s goal, according to Warren.
There’s nothing new in the story from Gander. It’s been par for the Conservative course for the past decade. It’s one of the reasons why the Tories have fallen through the hole in floor of the political outhouse these days, hanging on by their fingernails to keep from falling into the slop pit. The fact the Conservatives are so far down in the polls is also why people like Warren and others aren’t afraid to pry loose O’Brien’s fingers one at a time. They’ll keep doing it until he falls in and the last strand of Fairity’s Grecian formula-soaked coif slips beneath the turds.
Then they’ll turn to the next one.
Two years is a long time in politics, as Tory strategist Tim Powers told the CBC the other day. Tim meant the Tories could rebound.
Two years is plenty of time for people to work their way through a caucus that has earned public anger of the sort Kevin O’Brien has been feeling the past couple of weeks.
No amount of time, no amount of political genius, not even Tim himself could save O’Brien and the Conservatives from the kind of anger they have been creating in people for the past a decade.