17 February 2014

The Game of Throne #nlpoli

In 1979 and 1989, using pretty much the same party constitution as they have now, the provincial Conservatives in Newfoundland and Labrador managed to find a new party leader before the end of March after the leader quit in January. 

In 1979, the Conservatives picked a new leader, went to the polls, and won a resounding victory in a general election by the middle of June.  In 1989, they’d picked a new leader, gone to the polls, and as it turned out, lost a general election. 

In 2014, the Conservative Party announced on Friday that it will only close the nominations for leader on March 14 and the delegate election meetings will run from early April until June. The Conservatives will hold their leadership convention on the first weekend in July and the new Premier will take office at some point after that.

Those are the differences that leap out at you.

The differences are so great that they smack you in the face.  After all, it’s not like running a delegated leadership convention is any more complicated in 2014 than it was 30 years ago.  The Conservatives have huge piles money  and their candidates should be able to raise huge piles more.  They’ve got legions of supporters who can volunteer.

Still it makes you wonder why things are different these days.

One big clue to the difference is confirmation this past week that this isn’t the PC Party your grandparents and parents voted for.  In the 1970s and the 1980s, the Progressive Conservatives were a coalition of old-timey anti-Confederates and people who had grown tired of Joe Smallwood’s dominance of the Liberal Party and the province in the 1960s. 

They prided themselves on things like having a party that was based on individual membership and regular meetings where the members decided things.  The Liberals, you see, had gone 20 years  - 1949 and 1969 - without a party meeting.  Smallwood used to run the party through district strong-men he appointed and controlled.  Those sort of things may seem small to some, but to older Progressive Conservatives those sorts of differences  were big things.

The confirmation of the change came from Uncle Gnarley.  He wrote last week that
A group of people within and outside the Tory Caucus, including former Premier Danny Williams, have cast their net widely. [Frank] Coleman is deemed to possess the right mix of personal and professional credentials. He is the guy senior Tories are counting on to rescue the P.C. Party from crisis, if not total collapse.
They aren’t just counting on Frank to rescue them from electoral collapse.  No.  The crowd pushing for Frank Coleman are looking for a strong counterbalance to Bill Barry.  There’s no coincidence that Coleman’s name started circulating the day after Danny Williams launched a broadside at Bill Barry complete with Williams characteristic fabrications about what the target of his animosity had said and done.

There’s also no coincidence that they went outside the existing caucus to find their saviour.  Williams’ leadership style promotes mediocrity and that’s what he left behind when he ran from politics in 2010.  When he looked around at the current caucus and at potential candidates like Shawn Skinner, Williams turned up his nose at the lot of them.  Frank Coleman is his man.

And so it is that the backroom boys have gone for another backroom deal much as they did in 2010.  A backroom deal transformed Danny Williams’ placeholder into a party leader who would hang around at least until they got through the 2011 election.  Kathy Dunderdale lasted a bit longer than they originally planned, but as the Conservatives fell further and further in the polls,  something had to give.

In the end, either Kathy bailed or the back-room boys decided to heave her overboard. The result was the same and faced with another leadership vacancy, the boys couldn’t just leave things to chance or to the sort of contest the party had in 1979 or 1989. 

Don’t be surprised, therefore, if the leadership contest narrows down very quickly in the next couple of weeks to Frank Coleman and Bill Barry.  Although Shawn Skinner has been looking like he would run, don’t count on it.  Coleman’s entry to the race shifts the odds against Shawn racking up all that debt in what he would know from the outset was a lost cause.

The caucus will endorse Frank Coleman, as Des Sullivan (Uncle Gnarley) already predicted.  The backroom boys will work hard to lock up all the ex officio delegates and they’ll also work hard to get as many of the elected delegates as they can as well. 

Unless Bill Barry has a good organization and thinks he can win the district by district delegate elections, he’d be well advised to drop out and save himself the money.  The boys who have controlled the throne since 2003 aren’t too anxious to let it go now.

That much is becoming more and more obvious every day.