If you take John Crosbie’s version at face value, the Conservative Party rejected his son Ches as a candidate for the party in Avalon because of the intervention of David Wells.
Wells, the son of retired justice Robert Wells, is a senator from Newfoundland and Labrador. He is also an influential Conservative, the sort of fellow who normally goes about his business largely out of the public spotlight. .
Thanks to Crosbie, Wells is in the public eye. According to Crosbie, Wells didn’t “want Ches to be elected as an MP in the district of Avalon or any federal district because he would be too independent-minded and [Wells] wouldn't be in control as he has been now for a couple of years of most of the transactions between Newfoundland and the federal government.”
What the venerable Conservative was doing with that accusation was telling us less about the specific events that led to Ches’ rejection and more about a bigger story behind the scenes in Conservative politics.
After all, even if we leave aside the elder Crosbie’s paternal blindness, it’s hard to imagine that even John could seriously believe any Conservative – including Crosbie’s own progeny – could overcome the massive political deficit the party faces in the province and win the Avalon riding. The Conservatives are at 17% in the polls or thereabouts. That is less than half of either of the Liberals or the New Democrats.
If Wells or any Conservative wanted to get rid of any conceivable threat from Ches Crosbie, they would only have to let him run and suffer the almost inevitable defeat in order to be rid of him.
We will likely never know exactly why the federal Conservatives rejected Ches as an candidate. Wells has publicly denied any involvement in the party selection process as has Senator Fabian Manning.
But according to Stephen Maher of the National Post, the official e-mail from the party to Ches mentioned the fundraising sketch, an interview Ches gave to The Hill Times, and Ches’ position as the lawyer representing residential school survivors in a class action suit against the federal government as contributing factors in their decision to reject him.. The party officials couldn’t have too impressed, either, that Crosbie had donated to both Justin Trudeau’s leadership campaign as well as to the federal Liberal Party since 2012.
Whatever the reason behind the Conservative Party decision, it had to be good. At the same time that the party rejected Ches Crosbie, they accepted Kevin O’Brien. The former provincial cabinet minister had criticised the prime minister personally as being untrustworthy.
O’Brien’s candidacy is a good example of how political parties can deal with a candidate’s past behaviour, if they want to. In Crosbie’s case, they clearly didn’t want to.
Maher thinks the Conservatives dumped Crosbie because he wouldn’t be “silent while Harper stands at centre stage, sternly warning that only he can protect our families from terrorists.” Harper just doesn’t understand or care about “Newfoundland’s tradition of satirical humour,” according to Maher.
That just doesn’t ring true. It’s nothing more than a variation on the superficial theme that John Crosbie used. Since Ches stood no chance of winning, Crosbie wouldn’t be any kind of threat.
The official mention of the law suit along with some other points does suggest the problem with the younger Crosbie was deeper than his love of badly written satire. On the law suit, pundits have been quick to dismiss the potential role for the lawsuit. They make the distinction that the suit was against the government, not the party. What the pundits miss is that normal people don’t distinguish between the party in power and the government.
For them, Ches would be lacing into the Harper Conservatives if he kept the suit in his own firm. That would cause some fairly obvious problems for the Conservatives if they accepted a candidate who hadn’t just made comments critical of the Prime Minister in the past but who was - in effect - still making them.
There’s a meeting on the law suit scheduled for mid-July. If there’s no settlement at that point, the federal and provincial governments and Crosbie have a court date in September, according to The Independent newspaper. This is not just a matter of being outspoken or going off script. This would be the case of a candidate with a very high profile openly criticising the Prime Minister and the federal Conservatives directly and indirectly while he was a candidate for the party.
By contrast, Kevin O’Brien publicly ate his own words about the Prime Minister. In Crosbie’s case, the three points listed in the e-mail wouldn’t likely be the end of it. Crosbie was potentially going to be a chronic problem, a pain-in-the-ass without any redeeming qualities like, say, actually being able to win the seat. The Conservative Party officials rejected Crosbie because he brought nothing to the table but grief.
But even that might not be all of it.
Ches Crosbie hasn’t shown much of an interest in elected politics until now. That’s rather unusual for the scion of a prominent political family. Maybe there’s something to the idea that Ches Crosbie wasn’t really the driving force in his candidacy.
Conservative operative Tim Powers, one of Crosbie’s political associates and not so long ago an influential Harper Conservative in his own right commented publicly on the news of Ches’ rejection. National stories had Powers echoing Crosbie line, albeit in slightly less volatile terms than John used. Powers said that it made no sense for the Conservatives to reject a qualified candidate in a province where the party had no elected members.
What Powers said to media in Newfoundland and Labrador had a different twist on it. “It’s a political brand name that was prepared to lend itself to the Conservative Party,” Powers told the Telegram’s James McLeod. “[Ches Crosbie] may not have won that seat — in fact, it would’ve been difficult for him to have won that seat — but it would have started a little bit of a revival.”
The “political brand name” wasn’t prepared to lend its inanimate itself, regardless of the way Powers phrased it. Someone had to make the decision about the brand and that brand belongs to one name: John Crosbie.
If that’s the case, then this wasn’t about Ches Crosbie at all. This was about John Crosbie and his clan giving the federal Conservatives and Stephen Harper a helping hand in a time of need. John Crosbie was were prepared to lend himself to the federal Conservative Party in some sort of selfless gesture.
That’s a bit of a nosepuller on the surface but underneath you can see the power play that apparently lay behind Ches’ erstwhile candidacy. Ches was the stalking horse for John. Put Ches on the ballot and you really got John in all his uncontrollable glory. What you got was plenty of media coverage, and plenty of headaches, but you also got nothing in Newfoundland and Labrador to show for it after all was said and done.
Even Crosbie’s former aide acknowledged publicly that the federal Conservative brand was in such bad shape that no one could win a seat for the Blue Party in Newfoundland and Labrador. What Powers couldn’t point to - had anyone asked - was any gain for the federal Conservatives from anything they’d done in the province with John Crosbie or any of his associates. With no upside and plenty of down, the party waited and looked and waited and looked for an alternative. When none came forward they decided that nobody was better than Ches (and John) Crosbie.
What a kick in the guts.
Look at it that way and you can see why Ches Crosbie said little and John Crosbie made the whole thing personal once the rejection came. Refusing to put Ches on the ballot was a rejection of John with all the wounded pride of the massive ego that went with it. The whole thing was intensely personal. That’s why Crosbie singled out David Wells - one of of the Party’s key power brokers - for his scorn.
Wells has been the political go-to guy for the federal Conservatives for some time, as Crosbie well knows. But by attacking Wells personally, John Crosbie did more than identify David Wells as the blackguard whose scheming had robbed young Ches of his moment of glory. There was more to this tirade than John Crosbie looking like some sort of political stage mother to his 58-year-old son with a sudden ambition for political greatness.
What John Crosbie did with his Canada Day tirade was confirm that John Crosbie and his crowd simply don’t have the political clout any more that people imagine they have. Every syllable of Crosbie’s anger reeked of political impotence.
Take John Crosbie’s story at face value, even if that is not what actually happened. The former lieutenant governor, former international trade minister, former provincial cabinet minister, the guy who challenged the unchallengeable Joe Smallwood, was bested in a simple political nomination by someone the public scarcely had heard of.
David Wells isn’t a political nobody, of course, and John Crosbie did a fine job of confirming it for the world. We may never know the reasons why the federal Conservative Party rejected Ches Crosbie but as far as the internal Conservative Party power dynamics go, it doesn;t matter. John Crosbie has damaged himself and his own reputation, at least among the politically astute.
What’s more, it is hard to imagine what good might have come of it for either Crosbie of the Conservatives in the province. They remain a party bitterly divided along largely personal lines. Crosbie’s tirade gave a great boost to the Liberals and New Democrats across the country who have dined out on the Conservative in-fighting.
As far as the Conservatives go, Crosbie can rest assured that he and his associates will have a hard time getting their phone calls returned in Ottawa. They might be gambling that Harper is weak but the guy is still the prime minister. We haven’t had the election yet and Harper might well be back come the fall.
And if the party does fall from power, the other Conservative clans in the province might not be too keen to have John Crosbie and his clan play as influential role as they might hope. For one thing, the party will be shut out of office. For another, John Crosbie and his associates will be identified nationally with the crowd who helped drive the party from office.
They will also be identified as being part of that fractious crowd from Newfoundland and Labrador who like to put ego before all. This is the place, after all, where a former provincial Conservative Premier waged war after endless war with any politician, federally or provincially, who threatened his personal political hegemony. In the end, he waged a war and lost badly. His political impotence dogged him and continues to dog his followers.
At least, Danny Williams had his own small, shrinking kingdom to lord over until he ran from politics two years after the ABC debacle.
All John Crosbie has to show for his tantrum is three or four days of news coverage that confirms he has definitely lost whatever influence and political he had.