The day after the by-election in St. George’s-Stephenville East, federal New Democratic Party member of parliament Ryan Cleary showed an interest in provincial politics some might find curious.
“The question is not how to stop NL Liberals,” Cleary tweeted, “but how to boost provincial New Democrats. Status quo not working.”
Status quo means Lorraine Michael’s leadership, of course.
Cleary’s right. Lorraine’s leadership has proven to be a dismal failure. Not only did she and her supporters fail to capitalise on the strong showing in 2011, they’ve obviously failed to gain any ground as the support for the province’s Conservatives has collapsed. The by-election on the west coast confirmed that the New Democrats under Lorraine are staying firmly where they were. They aren’t losing ground, but they also aren’t growing, either.
Most people will find it quite odd that a federal politician like Cleary is concerned about Lorraine’s job performance. But it’s actually not all that odd. Cleary’s been showing signs of a plan to move to provincial politics for a couple of years now, starting with his interest in the development of the Narrows and the Outer Battery neighbourhood association.
In May, he refused to touch a question about the provincial, leadership “with a 10-foot pole.” That was a pretty clear sign not only that Cleary didn’t support her but that he wanted her out. After all, if he had no designs on the local job, he would have easily endorsed the will of the party convention that affirmed Lorraine in the job.
Then there are the federal developments. Word from Ottawa has been that Cleary hates being in the national capital almost as much as he loathes being in a caucus full of Churchill Falls-owning Quebeckers. News last week that the Liberals will run Seamus O’Regan against him in the next federal election certainly wouldn’t help Ryan’s mood, especially since a poll the week before showed the New Democrats federally in firm possession of third place. it seems that a hefty federal pension just isn’t in Ryan’s future, any more.
See? Things aren’t so unusual once you consider a few more details.
The Conservatives might not be the only party going through a leadership change before the next provincial election.
Meanwhile, Tuesday’s by-election confirmed what’s been apparent for some time, namely that the provincial Conservatives simply don’t have the political organization to fight an election any more. Virginia Waters was a disorganized mess. Danny Williams may have personally shaken things up but he didn’t bring any cohesion and co-ordination to the Conservative effort. In Harbour Grace, the Liberals pivoted from a leadership campaign and handily won the by-election in 10 days. The Conservatives had the field to themselves for the first week and a half and evidently didn’t make any headway.
In St. George’s-Stephenville East, as in the other districts, the Conservative disorganisation wasn’t the only problem they had. In Virginia Waters, Conservative voters quite obviously stayed home in order to express their disapproval with the way their party has been running things lately. Not only did Danny Williams fail to persuade them to come out, there are signs that many Conservative stayed home because of Williams’ return.
The same sort of dissatisfaction played a role in Harbour Grace and in St. George’s-Stephenville East. The reaction wasn’t to Williams’ behaviour in SGSE. On the west coast, you got a clear sign of the extent that Joan Shea (Burke) had simply alienated huge swaths of voters in the district.
CBC’s David Cochrane reported on Wednesday evening that his Conservative sources tell him things are so bad the party is planning to focus its efforts in the next election on the 30 or so seats the party figures they have a shot at winning. In itself, that’s pretty much an admission they know they will lose next time out. After all, if the Conservatives focus their efforts like that, they are clearly on the defensive and that’s the worst spot to be in.
The New Democrats are essentially in the same position. They don’t have the resources to fight a provincial campaign, so they too will be on the defensive across the board.
By contrast, the Liberals can and will focus their resources in those 30 seats, or, more likely, in the much smaller number that are actually in contention. That’s basically what the Conservatives were able to do in 2007, incidentally. They didn’t waste energy on seats they would win anyway and instead went after seats in Labrador West and Humber Valley. They reduced the opposition to four seats, in total.
Then there’s the money thing. A party that is on the way out, like the Conservatives, will have a harder and harder time raising money. There are rumblings the provincial Conservatives are already having cash troubles just as there are rumours the New Democrats have gone from having cash in the bank to piling up a debt. The Conservatives will probably be able to fund a major province-wide campaign, but if they are already planning a defensive strategy this far from an election, expect potential donors to get the message and keep their cash rather than give it to the Conservatives.
The Liberals, on the other hand, don’t have that problem. They’ve cut a deal with the banks on their current debt and are free to raise money for an election war chest. The leader’s banquet earlier this year showed that the party can raise large amounts of money quite easily. meanwhile, the party has been building a solid infrastructure including a team capable of running and winning a provincial election campaign.
That team - and that is what the Liberals have - stands in contrast to the loose association of individuals the Conservatives have become. The people of the province have seen the contrast in action in four by-elections. They’ll see it in one or perhaps two more before the end of the year. What started out as ripples a while ago has evidently built in strength. The by-election result on the west coast and Ryan Cleary’s open challenge to Lorraine Michael are part of the shockwaves that are coming.