No sooner had Lorraine Michael pronounced the New Democratic caucus back together again than two of its members announced that they would leave and sit in the House of Assembly as independent New Democrat members of the legislature.
Dale Kirby and Christopher Mitchelmore made the announcement in separate media statements on Tuesday morning.
This latest twist didn’t actually end anything, of course. It’s merely another step in a drama that will play out for another year or more. Let’s take a look at 10 observations about the whole ferkakta tale
First of all, let’s dispose of the idea that the divide between Lorraine and Dale was simply too great. As former Conservative cabinet minister Shawn Skinner put it on CBC’s On Point,
And as I said earlier, you're going to have either the party back Lorraine — or they will back Kirby — but they won't be together. There is going to be a split. At the end of this, Lorraine will be out or Dale will be out. It'll be as simple as that.
The idea that this was a personal struggle between Dale Kirby and Lorraine Michael is nothing but a way of looking at the crisis. It appears simple. It fit with the initial interpretation of personal betrayal that Lorraine applied at the outset.
The simplicity is deceptive. It hides the complex relationships and issues that helped create the problem.
It’s nonsense, in other words.
As the week unfolded, anyone paying attention could have seen that the issues were much deeper than whatever personal animosity flowed between. There were lots of people in the NDP who didn’t like the way Lorraine was running things or who thought the party needed to do more to get organized for the election coming within the next two years.
Second, let’s note that this whole fight seemed, as much as anything else, to be a fundamental difference of opinion within the party about things like election readiness. There were lots of other things related to the way Lorraine ran the caucus, but the basic divide seemed to put the more aggressive and - for the most part - younger people and the more sedate party Establishment.
Third, Lorraine Michael and her supporters made a big deal about polls that showed Michael was the most popular opposition politician. They seemed to place great stock in the polls, as if they actually translated to something real. They don’t, especially when your whole caucus is up in arms and party supporters are saying publicly that you need to take a hike.
Michael called the whole episode surreal in a media interview on Monday and in many respects her response seemed to be disconnected from reality. She continues to claim everything will be okay but that is basically as absurd as calling in a mediator to fix a political problem with a chorus of Kum By Yah.
It’s as if Lorraine never understood the magnitude of the problem, therefore reacted incorrectly, and thereby proved that she really isn’t the one to take the party into an election where it could win government.
Fourth, the rupture wasn’t inevitable. Plenty of people said George Murphy and Kirby couldn’t sit together once Murphy said publicly that he couldn’t trust. Well, if the people in the caucus felt they could actually succeed working together, George and Dale would have done or said anything to get over it.
The rupture was proof, in itself, that Lorraine Michael wasn’t up to the job. In a political caucus, the leader has to manage a hotbed of ambition, ego, and every sort of personality disorder on the planet. You have to keep people occupied so they can’t sit around brooding and plotting. If someone is hopped up about election readiness, put them in charge of the party committee finding candidates and organizing districts and hold them responsible for the outcome. If communications are an issue, then do likewise, or cut them some resources.
That brings us to the fifth point, namely that Michael won a tactical victory for the first 24 hours but made strategic blunder after strategic blunder. Tactical is short-term. Strategic is longer-term.
Again, that demonstrates that the NDP under Lorraine Michael was never a fundamentally effective political force. The dissidents were right in their assessment and they were right in their letter: it was designed to force a leadership convention. As Christopher Mitchelmore pointed out in a media interview on Tuesday, Loraine’s solution had no constitutional basis and so was essentially invented.
The party managed to do well in 2011 but nothing happened to capitalise on that momentum. The party ignored the 2013 municipal elections, despite all the rumours that they would continue the practice begun in the previous election of using the municipal elections as a training ground.
So, sixth, Kirby and Mitchelmore are gone to a separate part of the House. The NDP are still left with their leadership mess. Their caucus is smaller. Their House resources will shrink. They will get less time in Question Period. They have to compete with Kirby and Mitchelmore for media, something the pair showed this past week they can manage in spades.
Seven: the Tories are probably rubbing their hands together with glee. They’ve been getting lots of laughs out of this since last week. They shouldn’t be. This episode is not proof, as former cabinet minister Trevor Taylor gloated in the Telegram this week, that the polls don’t really show that the public have turned against the Tories. They are just a snapshot in time. Nonsense, Trevor.
The Tories are in the political shithouse as a result of their admitted chronic mismanagement (finances, Darin King etc) , relentless political shag ups like the sexual exploitation report this past week, and the sort of unjustified arrogance routinely displayed over the years by Trev, Steve Kent, and the rest of the Conservative Goon Squad.
Now the Tories have more people sniping at them than before. Dale Kirby is an aggressive politician who just did to Lorraine Michael and succeeded at what Danny Williams tried to do with Abitibi and failed. Dale left Lorraine with a stinking mess. Danny expropriated it.
In a couple of months time, no one will remember that Dale Kirby was one of four politicians who wrote a letter to Lorraine Michael. They’ll be watching the NDP writhing in leadership agony. Kirby will be either on his way back to the university or he’ll be scoring points off the Tories’ political hide.
You don’t get from the top of the polls to the basement by being political geniuses, so it is not the least bit surprising that the Tories misunderstood what just happened. They are as delusional as Lorraine. No wonder they loathe her for poaching their territory down the rabbit hole.
Of course, there is the eighth point, namely the Conservatives’ own leadership problems that continue to fester since the failed political deal struck in 2010 to leave Kathy Dunderdale as leader. The most recent manifestation of it was Jerome Kennedy’s abrupt departure in a row, apparently, over Muskrat Falls finances.
Nine: Once the Liberals get through their leadership contest in the middle of November, they will be in the catbird spot. They’ll be refreshed and reinvigorated. Their caucus is already larger by one. Now they can fill in the political space left by the collapsing New Democrats.
The party will have about two years to bankroll cash and do all the other things a party should be doing for the next election. Now that the NDP is out of the running, the Liberals are the natural alternative for people who want to change the political channel from the Conservatives.
Observation number 10 is Ryan Cleary. In a call to the province’s main radio talk show, Cleary told the provincial New Democrats he wants to get out of Ottawa and come back to lead them. Ryan doesn’t want to fight for the job, as it seems, at least not, if Lorraine keeps trying for the job.
Maybe a coronation would be what he had in mind. Within the year, we might find out if local New Democrats love Ryan a fraction as much as he loves himself.
What’s more important about Cleary’s comment is not that he covets the NDP leader’s job. It’s that he has branded himself as the temporary member of parliament for St. John’s South-Mount Pearl. He’s a lame duck by his own design, and what’s more, he’d be prepared to push the federal party into a by-election they don’t need at a time when the party is reeling from a devastating loss in Nova Scotia and a leadership mess in this province.
With friends like that, said Tom Mulcair…