18 April 2014

Experience still counts #nlpoli

Now that Frank Coleman is the de facto leader of the provincial Conservative party, there’s no reason why Coleman can’t be in the Premier’s Office with his new cabinet in place when the House of Assembly resumes its current sitting in early May.

Absolutely no reason whatsoever.

Coleman can appoint Tom Marshall as the deputy Premier or leave whomever Coleman appoints as Government House leader to stand in for him until Coleman can get a seat in the legislature.

It’s really simple.

And when the budget is done,  Coleman can head down to Government House and ask the Lieutenant Governor to issue a writ for a provincial general election to be held by the end of June.

There is no reason for Coleman to delay going to the voters to ask them for a mandate of his own to govern the province as Premier.

If he has a problem with that, Coleman can complain to the guy who put him in the Premier’s Office.  Back in 2001,  Danny Williams was so impatient to get into the Premier’s Office himself that he pushed the idea that new Premiers had to go to the polls as quickly as possible to get a mandate of his or her own. 

The long-standing parliamentary tradition of going upwards of five years between elections wasn’t good enough for Williams.  So let the engineer of at least three Conservative leadership fixes since 2001 be hoist with his own petard, if that is what the voters decide.

Of course, there is a more substantive interest in requiring that Coleman get a mandate from the people to lead the provincial government:  he has no experience in any elected office.  The public knows nothing of him, his values, his ideas, or his plans.  He has shown no interest in politics and public issues before now, save for his generous cash donations to the Conservative Party.

Indeed of all the Premiers this province has had since 1949, and of all the Prime Ministers Newfoundland ever had after 1855, Frank Coleman is the only one who ever got the job without being elected to any public body first. 

Coleman may be humbled by his easy ride to such a responsible job.  He should be ashamed.  The rest of us should be appalled.  No one should ever get to run any elected government in any democracy worthy of the name without having to be subjected to the test of an election. 

In the ordinary course, a party leader would have to get elected to the House and serve as a backbencher.  He might get to be a cabinet minister and get necessary experience in government. 

And then the politician who wanted to Premier would have to campaign first for his own party leadership and then with the public in a general election.  Even if, as in Roger Grimes’ case, the Premier wanted to ride out the remainder of his party’s mandate for whatever reason, the people of the province could at least have some confidence that the Premier had shown his mettle in a contest or two.job.

By the time all that was done, the public could be assured that they knew the politician fairly well before he got the top job.  They could also be assured that he had enough experience to handle what is, arguably, the most difficult job in the province.

In Coleman’s case, he may well have run a family business, but, with all due respect,  the Premier’s Office is a job that is far beyond running a bunch of grocery stores.  As fond as some people are of pretending this isn’t true,  politics and government are not the same as business.  The skills of one are useful in the other but it would only be a person of incomparable arrogance who believed that he or she could slide from the business world and relative obscurity to the Premier’s Office without any further experience.  Only dangerous ignorance would lead anyone to believe that such a novice should get a free ride to the 8th Floor.

We have seen Coleman’s staggering level of inexperience already.  In the few public comments that Coleman has made during his peek-a-boo campaign, his remarks are a mixture of meaningless platitudes – we are doing well and we have to keep that going – and some version of let me get back to you on that.

Take it from someone who has been there.  Working in the Premier’s Office is like drinking from a four-inch fire hose on full blast, all day every day, from the instant you walk in the front door until the day you walk out.  The hose does not stay in the office, either. It goes with you wherever you go:  in the bathroom, on vacation,  at home, in bed at night, all night. 

And that is just the ordinary work of the place. 

If there is a crisis like a national constitutional fight or an economic collapse of the kind the province has experienced a few times even in recent years,  working in the Premier’s Office can show the meaning of the phrase “weight of office.”  Strong-willed men of great intellect and unimpeachable character have been moved to tears by the job.  Others have left the job admitting that they no longer had the strength – the ruthlessness – to do what they knew had to be done.

Those were experienced men who had gone through the fight to get the job. They had proven that they had the character to hold the responsibility, that they had a set of goals they wanted to achieve, and that they had the determination to achieve them. 

By contrast,  an experienced politician who had no interest in the job – like Kathy Dunderdale – proved to be an unmitigated disaster.  What can we expect, then,  of an inexperienced fellow who apparently had no real interest in politics let alone being Premier until Danny Williams called him about the job a few weeks ago?

Right now, we don’t know.

The next few days will tell us.