Justice minister Terry French announced on Thursday that he’d be resigning in a couple of weeks time to take up a job in the private sector. French’s announcement looked like an effort to get in front of rumours that have been circulating for a while in some circles and that intensified in the past couple of days. It didn’t look like a well rehearsed or planned thing.
This was also the same day that Charlene Johnson confirmed she is quitting politics to go live in Brunei where her husband has been working for an undisclosed period of time. Johnson told reporters that she and her husband had actually decided over a year ago that she would leave politics. It’s still curious that with all the work- and health-related reasons Johnson offered for taking a year or more to leave actually, she couldn’t manage to hang on for just a couple of days or weeks longer.
In any event, we found out that Johnson really wasn’t leaving now for family reasons after all. There was some other reason for her to go, not that it matters at this point. What does matter is that she has gone. In a couple of weeks, Terry French will go and that means the provincial Conservatives will face three by-elections before Christmas.
Two was problematic.
Three will prove most difficult, if not impossible.
At least if they wind up with Ottenheimer to run in the Humber seat as Premier, the Conservatives stand a chance of winning that one. The other two are most certainly a write-off, no matter who the candidate is. You see, the Conservatives don’t have the organization and infrastructure to handle it. They dawdled and diddled in Harbour Grace. The Liberals wrapped up their leadership contest, turned on their heels straight into the district and in a mere 10 days clobbered the lollygagging Conservatives. In Virginia Waters, the Conservatives fiddled and frigged about. Danny Williams charged in, kicked asses, and took over but the effect was basically to put everything the Conservatives had into the effort.
They they lost anyway and in the aftermath, the Old Man looked positively batty with his talk of kicking butts the next time and “it was a tie.”
Well, the next time came, courtesy of the rather oddly timed departure by Joan Shea. And then the next time went with the Conservatives taking an even bigger lash in the political arse than Danny himself took in Virginia Waters.
The lesson here is that politics is a game of organization and logistics. The Liberals have built a team - note that word - that is scalable. They can add incremental numbers of people and tackle more districts. The Tories, having thrown everything into Virginia Waters, clearly have to increase their organization arithmetically just to stay competitive. For two districts, they must double the effort and in three, triple it and so on. They can have a bank account full of every penny in the universe and it will matter not a jot or tittle, to quote John Crosbie, if they cannot find their voters and get them to the polls.
The Liberals, supposedly having a hard time with the cash according to the Conservatives, have had no trouble fighting and winning by-election after by-election. Of course, they have also had no trouble putting cash in the bank lately, either, but that is another story.
If the next Premier is not running in Humber East, then the Conservatives will have a hard time hanging onto that one either. That would put them down three more seats, with the Liberals at 16. The New Lorraine-ocrats would have three for a total of 19. The Conservatives would be at 29 in such a scenario. Take one away for Speaker and you have 28.
A majority of eight or nine would still be comfortable. Well, comfortable except for one teensy thing. Charlene and Terry and Joan and Tom are not the last of the gang of Conservatives ready to leave politics for “family” or any other bogus reasons.
There’s a list of them.
The entire Class of 2003 is liable to go. They were pensioned up a long time ago and have just been hanging around because of the 2010 internal caucus arrangement and the chance to fatten the pension a bit. As Shea and Johnson have shown, everything comes second to their individual interests. They’ll go when they wish and the only thing that will keep them around is their own self-interest. The Class of 2007 is likewise pensionable. Any of them not in cabinet might well bugger off, too. Then, there are the people who might decide to pull a Ross Wiseman and cross the floor to the Liberals or just to the opposition benches.
The new Premier will have to spend the rest of this year doing two things. The first is fighting the by-elections. The second is keeping everyone inside the tent. That is likely to consume most of his attention. After all, only five of the darlings would have to skitter across the floor or out of the House altogether in order to bring the government into a minority status. In fact, were any bunch of the loose association of individuals called the Conservatives catch flu at the same time when the House was in session, the premier and his administration would be in grave jeopardy. The would be just a single confidence vote away from an election and, given the polls, almost certain defeat.
Johnson, Shea, and French have shown that the Conservative leader has virtually no control over the caucus. Doesn’t matter whether Kent, Ottenheimer, or Davis wins the thing. They are politically impotent. Politically impotent leaders can’t do much. In such circumstances, staying in office will be first priority for the new Premier. Governing will be decidedly second on the new Premier’s agenda and implementing any of the new ideas they might have would likely be a third. Changing the party direction to fight and win the next election isn’t even on the list of things they can do.