Paul Lane scored big on Monday.
First, he secured his nomination and his seat in the next provincial election by running as a Liberal. As long as the party continues on its current track, Lane will win easy re-election not on his own merits but – as in 2011 – on the coat-tails of the party he was hooked up with at the time.
To be sure, Liberal leader Dwight Ball insisted Lane has no guarantee of a safe nomination, but in practical terms, that is a huge nose-puller. Incumbents are typically hard to unseat. Incumbents with a year and a half of profile before the nomination are that much hard to beat. And those with the enthusiastic and unqualified support of the party leader and the entire caucus likely could not be defeated with a crucifix, stake and a bathtub of Holy water. Paul Lane is safe.
And then there is the little bonus Lane garnered on Monday that few seem to grasp at this point. By convention, no party leader in Newfoundland and Labrador has ever left any of his opposition bench mates out of the fat once they win an election.
In 1989, the only incumbent who didn’t get to cabinet was Kevin Aylward. That was only because Aylward had blotted his copybook not once but twice over the leader and his seat. Aylward eventually got his reward. In 2003, Danny Williams rewarded all of his caucus mates with plum jobs of one kind or another.
These are the kind of rewards that require no overt promise. If asked, politicians can always quickly say they’ve made no promises. But everyone understands, with a figurative wink, that they’ll be looked after.
Dwight Ball will have a hard time breaking that tradition. It’s part of the unspoken constitution of politics. There are lots of things Ball and his people will say to justify Lane’s reward, when it happens. Some of it might even be plausibly true. But that doesn’t matter. The fix is already in. Paul Lane finished Monday with a guarantee of anything any ambitious politician would want: a secure future and, in all likelihood, a cabinet seat in a future government.
Evidently that is something the ambitious Mr. Lane he couldn’t get from the Conservatives.
What’s not so clear is what Dwight Ball and the Liberals get out of this.
Lane brings no special skills, talent, or knowledge to his new caucus.
The Liberals certainly don’t need Lane or his seat for anything. As it stands now, the Liberal Party is at the top of the polls. They will have all sorts of good candidates coming forward, at least one of whom could hand Lane his ass if the Liberals had left him with the Conservatives.
If the Liberals wanted to cause a shock to Kathy Dunderdale and the Tories, they didn’t have to take Lane into the Liberal caucus. By all signs, his dissatisfaction was so skilfully hidden from his former colleagues that none of them saw his escape coming. Lane’s resignation would have done the damage on its own.
And if the Liberals felt they needed to take Lane in for some currently unknown or unfathomable reason, then they could have at least made him sit for a while as an independent as Tom Osborne did.
Instead, they showed up at Paul Lane’s news conference and sat on the sidelines, apparently as props. The effect of the news conference was to show that Lane did not come to the Liberals. The appearance was that they were coming to him.
Lane’s speech was both longwinded and hypocritical. Lane claimed that he was standing with his constituents in opposing Bill 29 or Kathy Dunderdale. Last month, Lane would have insisted that he was doing what his constituents wanted by backing Bill 29 and the great leadership of Kathy Dunderdale. Hardly a word of Lane’s speech rang true.
Lane’s attack on the NDP in the speech was bizarre and out of place. It gave the faltering party more credibility than it deserved. Lane’s attack on the anti-development, free spending New Democrats was word-for-word the same stuff Lane said as a free-spending Conservative who opposed free enterprise and economic development devoid of excessive government control. (Bill 61)
When Lane talked about what “our government” has done, it was hard to know if he was quoting from a speech he originally planned to deliver to a Conservative audience as he launched his own bid to replace Kathy Dunderdale. His comments on Bill 29, transparency, and accountability were laughable. They lacked credibility.
And that lack of credibility is the one thing that life-long Conservative Paul Lane did give the Liberals on Monday. Since he was first elected in 2011, Paul Lane has revelled in the role of political thug. He ruthlessly attacked anyone who criticised his party. When he wasn’t doing that, Lane mindlessly recited whatever talking points his caucus handed him.
Asked by reporters about what other political defectors the Liberals might welcome, Dwight Ball said that it all depended on the individual. Ball described Lane on Monday as a good fit with the Liberal caucus. Ball said that Lane added to the party’s rebuilding and momentum.
It’s hard to see how that could possibly be true.
Time will tell.