Pretty well every Conservative who is anyone in the province turned up on Wednesday night at Danny Breen’s by-election headquarters.
Every Conservative, that is, except the fellow who is the heir-apparent to the leadership. Frank Coleman wasn’t anywhere to be seen according to reporters at the headquarters after the polls closed.
It turned out that Coleman had shown up at around 7:00 PM, an hour before the polls closed, looked around for a bit and then left. Apparently, he had better things to do. He didn’t speak to reporters about the by-election loss.
Instead, Coleman sent out a written statement. If he gets to be Premier, someone wrote on Coleman’s behalf, Coleman would welcome Breen as a candidate in the next election.
In ordinary circumstances, people would likely consider Coleman’s actions to be quite bizarre. But then again, these are not ordinary circumstances.
Coleman’s peek-a-boo campaign makes sense only if you understand that he is just a cut-out. While Coleman was home with his feet up the past few weeks, the guy who is really in charge of the Conservative Party was running the campaign in Virginia Waters.
Williams’ has been front-and-centre in the Virginia Waters campaign for most of the past couple of weeks. Williams’ attributes his role to a poll that showed his candidate was losing badly. No one has ever seen the poll and it’s unlikely Williams would let anyone see the actual numbers.
Whether the poll exists or not is irrelevant. What’s important is that Williams makes no bones about the fact that he was the guy running the show in Virginia Waters. Williams’ solution to the polling problem – by his own account - was not to put the candidate front and centre but to make Hisself himself the de facto candidate.
Danny Breen was a great candidate, Williams told reporters after the votes were counted. So great a candidate that Williams pushed him to the sidelines once it appeared that Breen was 15 points behind Cathy Bennett.
And so in a campaign supposedly about the future with Danny Breen, Williams ran a campaign about himself and the past. Williams ran a set of radio spots that were about the Conservatives’ record since 2003. Don’t throw it all away, Williams implored voters in so many words. Remember the good times we used to have. Williams turned up at all sorts of photo ops from seniors’ homes to fish and chip shops. The candidate was there in the shots, but Williams was the focus of everything.
When the vote counts came in, the Conservatives did not lose. No one likes to lose, Williams told the reporters. So let’s call this a dead heat. But the dead heat is over and now the big thing for Conservatives is the leadership contest between two “intelligent, outstanding candidates” as Williams called them.
How times have changed. In February, Bill Barry was somewhere between Stephen Harper and “Quebec” on Williams list of stock enemies. Ministers will be leaving “sooner rather than later” and there is an opportunity to rejuvenate the Conservative Party.
I don’t see myself as part of that because I am the old guy and I’m gonna move on. But if I can help make that transition then I am only too delighted to do it.
The leader who everyone thought had left in 2010 is “gonna move on.” Gonna, as in going to, as in moving along at some undefined point in the future, not as in already left. There’s that verb tense problem, again.
Peter Cowan from CBC asked the Old Man – or Old Guy, if you prefer – about comparisons between the Conservatives’ recent losses and 2001 Liberal by-election losses. Williams’ right shoulder twitched so hard twice in a row at that point that it’s amazing he did not knock himself unconscious. That’s the tell-tale shoulder twitch of tension that always comes up when the Old Man is agitated.
Williams obviously did not like Cowan’s question. And so he recited the campaign messaging – don’t forget all the great times we had – and even managed to toss in a “nothing could be further from the truth” just for old times’ sake.
At that point in the scrum, the Old Man reminded us all of the nasty, miserable, petty man that he can be at times. Williams insulted Liberal caucus members by name, branding them as opportunists. And then he returned to the litany of past Conservative achievements.
Presumably one of the Great Conservatives doing Great Things was Ross Wiseman. Elected as a Liberal, Wiseman crossed the floor to the Tories before the 2003 election. Not an opportunist, as far as Williams was concerned, but then again, the Old Man always had a selective perception of reality.
That’s the selective perception of reality that calls a loss a dead heat, that holds out a candidate so sterling that he must be relegated to the sidelines, that sees the future as nothing more than the past. Change means more of the same. These are the messages that failed in Virginia Waters but Williams is sticking with them because they did not fail.
It is selective perception like Williams’ solemn promise to sign no deal on the Lower Churchill with Hydro-Quebec without redress for the 1969 contract. After 2003, it was five years of secret talks to try and sell Hydro-Quebec a piece of the Lower Churchill with redress off the table. The most open and transparent government in history practicing unprecedented secrecy.
It is the selective perception of reality about Williams’ comments on Bill Barry in February:
Bill Barry would definitely not have my support. Absolutely not. …Well, he doesn't stand for anything that I support, so Bill Barry is off my list. That's probably the clearest thing I can tell you.
Now in April, after people started talking openly about the fix put in for Williams’ candidate Frank Coleman, Williams told reporters that the whole thing was nothing but reporters trying to make up a rift between himself and someone else, in this case Bill Barry.
And Williams is just one PC with one vote, and that’s all there is to that.
There is reality and then there is the perception. What screws everything up is that once in a while the reality plays a game of peek-a-boo.
Just like a future Premier.
In a written statement.