19 October 2015

An opportunity to feel like we’re part of the country again #nlpoli #cdnpoli

This is Craig Westcott’s editorial from The Pearl newspaper, reproduced with permission.. 

This is a tough column to write. Taking an editorial position in favour of one candidate over another when both have worked so hard in this election isn’t as easy as some partisans on either side might think.

My opinion is tempered by the experience of having run myself, back in 2008, when I didn’t stand a snot of a chance as the Conservative candidate in the federal election against the NDP’s Jack Harris, who had the full weight and force of Danny Williams’ popularity and provincial PC machine behind him.

As I said at the time, I ran not so much for Stephen Harper’s Conservatives as against Danny Williams’ ABC campaign and his bid to isolate Newfoundland even farther from the political mainstream of this country.

I knew I was going to lose, but that didn’t make losing much easier. I also learned the price some losing candidates pay after an election. All but one of my outside journalism gigs evaporated as a result of having “tainted’ myself with politics, a taint made worse by having run for the Conservatives instead of the NDP or Liberals, who are viewed more congenially by some people in the local media. It also meant a hard hit to the revenues of my newspaper, The Business Post. My family suffered because of it, so I am deeply aware of what the loser in St. John’s South – Mount Pearl might face following the voters’ verdict on Monday.

But just as voters have to do what they think is right on October 19, fellows like me in the news business have to follow our consciences and advise what we think is right, whatever those views might be worth.

My view is this: St. John’s South – Mount Pearl, and Newfoundland in general, needs a member who is going to help Newfoundland function as part of the country again. We’ve spent the past seven years in isolation. We can’t afford another four years of navel-gazing while Canada is changing so quickly and we slip farther behind, population-wise and economically.

There’s a strong chance Monday night that Justin Trudeau’s Liberals will win the government of this country. Over the course of the last two months, the race has turned from a dead heat among the three main parties, to an NDP lead, to a horserace between the Liberals and Conservatives with Harper’s horse ahead by a nose, to now, in the final days of the campaign, a burst to the finish line by team red.

If the Liberals win Monday night, it will be an opportunity for Newfoundland to have a significant presence in the next government. Five of the Liberal candidates are virtually guaranteed to win. It will be even better to have six, or even seven. The bigger our contingent is on the government side over the next four years, the stronger will be our voice in a country of competing interests, demographics and regions.

I’ve covered politics in Newfoundland a long time, some 28 years. My honest assessment of the two candidates in St. John’s South – Mount Pearl is that O’Regan has the potential to be the better representative. I say potential, because there’s no way of knowing for sure without giving him a chance.

On paper, O’Regan is better educated than the NDP incumbent Ryan Cleary, and in the two local’ debates, he showed himself to be smarter and to have a deeper grasp of the issues and of his own party’s platform.

With Cleary, we are dealing with a known entity. Over the four years he has been in Ottawa, Cleary’s persona has devolved into a one dimensional character, almost a cartoon figure of a Newfoundland patriot. He incessantly boasts about how he wears a brooch of Newfoundland and Labrador on his chest, and that he views every issue “through a Newfoundland and Labrador lens.”

It’s become increasingly hard to take such a strawman seriously. Imagine meeting a fellow from Manitoba or Ontario getting on with the same myopic posturing as Cleary, insisting, self-importantly, that he views everything through a Manitoba or Ontario lens, while beating his chest and pointing to the shiny provincial pin he’s wearing. You’d probably assume there was something wrong with the poor fellow.

However, there is nothing wrong with Cleary other than a confidence that he can fool voters by constantly playing the Newfoundland patriotism card. Cleary’s act assumes gullibility on the part of the average voter. It also implies that somehow he cares about Newfoundland more than the rest of us.

As Newfoundlanders we have often let ourselves be manipulated by politicians who have figured out how to press our emotional hot buttons. You might say it’s our political weak spot. And we’ve paid a steep price for it.

I’m not entirely sure what we’ll be getting if we elect Seamus O’Regan on October 19. But I am pretty certain about what we can expect if we don’t.

That’s why I’m recommending that you vote Liberal on Monday. If the polls bear out, it will be nice having a member on the government side again. And if they don’t, we’ll see whether this articulate, well-educated, well-connected, but seemingly down to earth former television personality has anything to offer.

He’ll have four years to prove himself. Cleary has had his chance. It’s time to give O’Regan one.