18 November 2013

Every day can bring them one step closer #nlpoli

Liberal supporters in the province elected Dwight Ball as the new party leader in voting that ended on Sunday.

By the time this appears on Monday morning, you will likely have heard most of the obvious comments. You will also have heard or read about how this leadership contest staked up against others across Canada for things like percentage of turnout compared to eligible voters or to the population as a whole.

It’s pretty impressive by any count and certainly gives the Liberal Party not merely a solid foundation but a legitimate one on which to build.  None of the other parties in the province can say they have had such a leadership contest or attracted as much attention  from ordinary Newfoundlanders and Labradorians.

Now that Dwight is the elected leader, he has a job ahead of him to make sure the party is ready to win the next election.  Here are some thoughts.

Keep the Team Together

Each of the three leading contenders for the leadership produced strong teams that are now more experienced than they were two or three months ago.

Both Cathy Bennett and Paul Antle can rightly expect senior posts in Dwight Ball’s cabinet after the next election.  That’s not just a tradition:  that’s a recognition of their evident abilities.

The thing all three need to keep foremost in their mind – Ball, Bennett, and Antle – is that they are all in the gravy if they can stick together as a coherent, cohesive team.  Dwight Ball’s first leadership test will be to define roles for his opponents and some of their key people in the Liberal Party. If he doesn’t already have it on the agenda, Ball needs to get them together within the next 48 hours and hammer out the jobs everyone will do. 

Fundraising is a big one.  The party needs to raise a million bucks just to retire the old debt,  at least another million and a half for a war chest for 2015 and another pile to hire and pay a full-time core group of staffers to do the organizational work to get the party ready for the next election.  Recruiting and training is another big job.  Research is another and then there is comms and voter tracking.

Clean House

After that job gets sorted, Ball’s next task is to take an axe to the senior leadership of the party.  He needs to start at the top and clean house.  Friday’s ballot announcement fiasco is just the latest evidence supporting the need for new faces within the party leadership.

There’s no need to wait until the next convention. These people can tender their resignations now.  People can fill in temporarily or they can find a way to replace them that is as democratic as the leadership contest.  Next year’s convention can turn into a pre-election rally.

Outside of the executive slots, Ball needs to get a grip on some of the party’s major committees. Now that he is firmly in charge, Ball can pick the people he wants to fill particular jobs not just accept the people who showed up.

There’s always room for one more heart

Dwight Ball’s acceptance speech was one of the best he’s delivered.  He nailed all the right points.  One of the key points to keep driving home in the weeks and months ahead is that the Liberal tent flaps are open and the party welcome-mat is out. 

Former leader Roger Grimes rightly noted that Cathy Bennett’s leadership campaign showed the party is open to new people and their ideas.  More than that, as Grimes said, the party needs new people to bring the sorts of change needed to build a successful party.  Grimes is dead on:  any successful party needs that. 

The Liberal experience in this leadership contest is in stark contrast to the Conservatives and New Democrats, both of which have shown recently that they are closed shops.  The Liberal Party has many hearts, as someone said, and there is always room for one more.  Ball can attract more.

As with the leadership contest itself, these three things are the same tasks a future Premier will have to face from the first day on the job.  Every one that Ball gets right brings him  - and the rest of the party - one step closer to the Premier’s Office.