22 October 2013

The Night of the Pen Knives #nlpoli

Sometimes political party leaders get to chose how they leave the job.

Other times they don’t.

The Liberals punted Leo Barry out of the leadership in 1987.  The entire caucus handed him a letter demanding his resignation after her went off to the States on a trip.  Now the truth be told, the trip wasn’t the cause of the caucus revolt.  The trip just brought everything to a head.

In Lorraine Michael’s case, the New Democratic Party leader came back from a holiday to find an e-mail from her four caucus mates demanding she take a hike in 2014 so that the party can “renew” before the next provincial general election.

Again:  no surprise in the demand for her resignation even if the means was cheesy. 

When you have to fire the party leader, a face-to-face meeting would be the classiest way to go.  it shows respect and gives everyone the chance to take direct responsibility for his or her position. A letter is not quite as good but at least the people who signed it had to take the decision to put their names at the bottom of the document.

But an e-mail like the one Michael got is just tacky. 

Regardless of how they delivered the message, there is no surprise some New Democrats want a new leader.  Lorraine brought them this far but poll after poll for the past year shows the NDP have flat-lined.  They aren’t losing any support but they aren’t growing any, either, and that’s not a good spot to be in.  The NDP are still way ahead of the Conservatives, but at least the Tories know they can’t get much lower.

The problem for the ambitious among the NDP is that the Liberals have come jump from last place to push the NDP out of first place.  They did it in six months. What’s more, the Liberal leadership has given the party three or four months of great publicity while the NDP have been hardly able to get anywhere.

So there are solid political reasons why the Dipper faithful might want a shake-up at the top.

If all the rest of that wasn’t true, one of the biggest political reasons is also the oldest:  ambitious politicians.  Lots of people will tell you that Dale Kirby has designs on the leaders job, for example.  Kirby may be denying any leadership ambitions intentions now that the letter is in public  - and getting shat on from great heights - but you would be on safe ground if you took the denials with a grain of salt.  Kirby’s a knowledgeable campaigner and he’s been effective in the House.  Wait and see what happens in a few weeks rather than accept his current public position as the last word. 

Other than that, the rest of the wannabe NDP leaders seem to be outside the caucus.  Most prominent among them would be Ryan Cleary, currently the member of parliament for St. John’s South - Mount Pearl. Cleary’s interests have always been more local than national.  There’s  no way of weighing his fortunes at this point but that really has nothing to do with his calculation.  What really makes Cleary a likely candidate is that he is even more in love with the sound of his own voice than the Old Man is.  As provincial NDP leader, Cleary could call Paddy Daly and in get into rackets every week without having to call long distance.

Cleary isn’t the only one.  Some people were tossing Sheilagh O’Leary’s name around at some point.  Her spectacularly poor mayoral campaign should kill off any chance O’Leary had of winning.  Still, the chance of success doesn’t mean O’Leary might not take a shot at the steady paycheque that comes from sitting in the House of Assembly.

The other name some might push forward as a potential leader would be former labour federation boss Lana Payne.  She’s got a new job, though, and taking on the provincial NDP leader’s job might only be attractive if some gang within the party could guarantee an easy win first in the leadership contest and then a second coronation in Signal Hill-Quidi Vidi.

All of that is really just wonderful speculation, of course. 

The only thing anyone can say for certain is that the political landscape in Newfoundland and Labrador is going to be shifting more over the next year or so than a Florida neighbourhood in sinkhole season.  The Liberals are already cluing up their leadership contest.  The NDP will have one of their own in 2014.  There’s one by-election coming up before Christmas and the possibility of a few more in 2014.

Then there are the Tories.  All is not well inside the Conservative caucus despite the frantic claims from Tories to the contrary.  They’ll be picking a new leader, perhaps as early as 2014 as well.  Unless the Conservatives swap out their leader after next October, the province will be going to the polls not long afterward.

The fun is only just beginning.