27 January 2014

Forget the rinse. Just repeat. #nlpoli

The same people saying and doing the same things as they have always done won’t change anything

A provincial Conservative started out the week explaining why he cut a deal with a couple of provincial Liberals so he could get re-elected.

As part of his speech on Monday, Paul Lane said:

While there are indeed many people doing quite well in this economy…there are still many people who are  not experiencing the positive impacts of our economy. As a matter of fact for many people, this economy is causing many people to fall further behind…

Those people include seniors, people with disabilities, people on fixed and low incomes, and in many cases, children. Government must focus on matters important to these people and the  “everyday person”, said Lane.

Another provincial Conservative changed his political life last week.  On Friday, Tom Marshall became the 11th Premier of Newfoundland and Labrador.  After talking the oath of office, Marshall said:

So it is therefore very important to me that all Newfoundlanders and Labradorians shall share fully and fairly in the benefits of our newfound prosperity, and have a voice in the way it is distributed.

So let us ensure that the fight against poverty and inequality intensifies in our province and we never forget the needs of those who are aged, who have disabilities, who are infirmed [sic], and who live on fixed and low incomes.

The words may be slightly different but there is no make that they both said the same thing:  government must now turn its attention to something new. 

There’s also no accident that the two said pretty much the same thing.  Tom didn’t figure out what to say after hearing Paul.  Far from it.  Much of what Paul said  - like when he spoke about “our” government - sounded like a speech he had planned for a Conservative audience.

What they were both reciting is the last script the Conservatives are turning to in their effort to find the magic message that they think will make the polls bounce upward again.

There was a lot of that  - reciting talking points - among provincial Conservatives last week.

The History of Kindness

Take what happened on Wednesday. 

History will be kind to her, they all told us after the beleaguered Kathy Dunderdale finally packed it in and then packed off back to Florida, again.

“History will be a lot kinder to her than the way she has been treated today,” said Tom Marshall to reporters after Dunderdale announced she’d be gone from the office by Friday.

“History books, in my mind, will be very kind to Kathy Dunderdale,” said Clyde Jackman to the Telegram.

“History will judge her kindly,” said Darin King to the Telegram, “much more so than some others today.”

Everything is Great

Then there is the state of the province generally:

Here’s Paul on Monday:

…from an economic point of view,  our province is fairing extremely well and is leading the country in many indicators…

Paul’s sole concession to the fact he was speaking to an audience of Liberals was that he would vaguely acknowledge that some unspecified other people had a hand in changing the province, too.

On Wednesday, Kathy told us that for “10 years in government, and the past three as Premier, I have had the privilege of working with a team second to none to transform our province, placing Newfoundland and Labrador on a secure footing with a proud, prosperous, sustainable future. The progress we have made is undeniable.”

Then she listed off the accomplishments she was talking about.

And here’s Tom:

We are not the province we were a decade ago.

Opportunities have never been brighter – but we have to ensure – we must ensure – that they are available to all of us.

His version was shorter in no small measure because by Friday, we had heard the same thing twice already.  The person who wrote the speeches for both Kathy and Tom had the good sense to cut down the repetition just a bit.

But Tom’s message was identical to that of his predecessor and his former caucus mate. As reputed leadership contender Derek Dalley put it in comments to CBC, the province is in good shape.

When they weren’t talking about history and the glories brought by Conservatives, the provincial Conservatives talked about “renewal”. 

Steve Kent, who seems to think is scripted comments, stuck precisely to the script on Wednesday. After acknowledging the government had made some unpopular decisions, Kent said that events this week gave “an opportunity for us to reset and re-evaluate and make sure we are positioned as a party for success for 2015.”

Susan Sullivan brought it up on Wednesday.  “Renewal is always important,” she said, “so when I think when we have a chance to do that the people of the province get to take another look at us.”

It’s a communications thing… or not

Later in the week, Sullivan went on CBC’s On Point with David Cochrane along with Kevin “Fairity” O’Brien.  Both insisted – in almost identical phrases  - that Kathy Dunderdale always put the province and the future of her party above all else.  Both insisted – in similar phrases – that the caucus supported her and that Kathy’s decision to go was both her own and for the good of the party.

Kevin “Fairity” O’Brien blamed social media for Kathy Dunderdale’s downfall along with the old chestnut, the supposedly “hostile media”. Sullivan chimed to agree about social media and a supposed mob mentality that “does not get broken.”  O’Brien backed off when Cochrane challenged him on the point about hostility but quickly reverted to the claim that there was a problem with the communications “piece.”  

O’Brien complained about a lack of “traction” for all the good news of what the government was doing.  When asked whether any specific government actions – like the response to the blackout – might have been part of the problem, O’Brien quickly recited the old lines that the Conservatives hadn’t been effective at getting their message out.

That isn’t the same thing, of course.  It’s just the old line that they had done nothing to deserve their lousy place in the polls.  All the decisions were correct.  They just weren’t able to get that through to people.  The failure isn’t on Fairity, Sullivan, or anyone else in cabinet.  The fault is on the “mob” or on the evil news media or just ordinary people who didn’t listen.

There’s nothing new in any of this.  We’ve heard it before as the Conservatives fell further and further in the polls.  Kathy Dunderdale and the Conservatives have talked about all of those things before.  So have other members of cabinet and, in the case of Shawn Skinner, a former cabinet minister who may run for the Conservative leadership.

The Conservatives need to change.  They’ve been dropping in the polls.  Both of those things are connected and they’ve been obvious for a while.  SRBP has been writing about it for the past three years;  others seem to have only noticed it within the past six or eight months.

Looks are the only thing

What the Conservatives presented the province this past week is nothing more than the appearance of change.  Kathy’s gone but everyone else is staying in place.  Even the list of prospective candidates for the leadership consists of only one person who is genuinely outside the current caucus and cabinet:  Bill Barry.

What’s more, Tom Marshall  is pledging to run the government as if he had a mandate of his own.  He won’t run a caretaker administration.  His cabinet shuffle this week won’t likely make very many changes in cabinet roles and we are unlikely to see new faces coming on board.  To the contrary,  over the next several weeks we may see one or two cabinet ministers drop out as they vie to replace Kathy Dunderdale.

In the meantime, Tom and the rest of them will set government  priorities for the next year.  While the boys – and they are all male so far – are off looking to change the party, the cabinet will be setting the course for the next year.  No matter how often the talking points will repeat words like “renewal”, things don’t change if you keep them the same.

Conservative leadership candidates can hardly bring new people to the party, they can hardly be open to new ideas, they can scarcely even pretend to have a discussion of new directions when Tom and the rest of them will be welding the tiller in place.

There’s little that the new leader can do to bring about substantive change in any event since the people who are setting the course under Tom Marshall are the same people the new Premier will have to use in his cabinet once the leadership fight is over.  The backbenches are empty of any talent.  A new Premier would be hard-pressed to appoint some cabinet ministers from outside the House without risking a string of by-elections they may well lose. 

And if they tried to appoint real outsiders and wait until the next general election to get them into the House, the Conservatives run the risk of cementing their anti-democratic reputation in place rather than get rid of it. The Conservatives, you see, are only half way through their current mandate.  Given their standing in the polls, they likely won’t be able to have an election before the fall but even that would be optimistic.   They may well be staring at the spring of 2015 before they can drop the writ and have a chance of winning another election. 

What the Conservatives don’t seem to understand is that having the same people saying and doing the same things that they have always done and said doesn;t change anything.