In preparation for the coming general election battle, the provincial Conservatives are digging in their headquarters within sight of the head waters of Shit Creek.
They are frustrated, as David Cochrane reports. They cannot lay a glove on Dwight Ball and the Liberals. As a result, “[w]e are going to be very aggressive,” a big Tory told Cochrane.
Like the Conservatives have been push-overs and pansies until now. Since 2001, the provincial Conservatives have been the most harshly partisan bunch of politicians Newfoundland and Labrador has seen since Confederation. Go back to the Bill 29 racket or the Muskrat Falls fight.
Heck, go back to the way they treated Tom Osborne. Ostracised within caucus and then when he left them, brutally abused by Steve Kent, Joan Burke, Kathy Dunderdale and the rest of the Conservative goon squad.
Highly aggressive is what got the Conservatives into their current pickle in the first place. People got tired of it. They are not going to be aggressive because Dwight Ball won;t discuss Liberal policies, the Conservatives are going ugly because vicious, nasty and personal is all they know how to do.
Cochrane’s latest revelations from inside the Conservative head shed are confirmation that they are still politically tone deaf. They’ve had five years – and countless failures - to justify a change in their approach to politics. They haven’t. If there was a Newfoundland equivalent of a disgraced coke-snorting ex-mayor, the local Conservative brain trust would already have him booked for a string of appearances alongside Paul Davis.
Instead, the Conservatives went to a public sector union convention and implored the union activists to vote strategically. This was every bit as desperate a move as the Doug Ford strategy. The enemy of the Conservatives’ enemy is not their friend. The unions hate the Conservatives just as much as they hate the Liberals.
Then there is the 21 seat strategy. Last year, the Conservatives talked about focussing on 30 seats. Now they are talking about the prospect they might win a much smaller proportion of the House even after you allow for the seats the Conservatives and Liberals chopped from the House since 2014.
On one level, this is an acknowledgement by the Conservatives of their political problem. On another level, it is a case of whistling past the graveyard. Paul Davis can talk about having a shot at 21 or 26 seats. The problem is that there is no objective sign he has a shot at any more than five or six.. Even if - by some miracle – they stood far higher in the polls than they do, the Conservatives don’t have the campaign machinery put in place even at this late juncture to capitalise on it.
In another respect, the fact the Conservative insiders are speaking so frankly about their frustrations and their plans feeds the Liberals and the NDP with all sorts of valuable information they wouldn’t have. These Conservative blabbermouths have confirmed the party leadership is psychologically defeated.
The Liberals now know the Conservatives only have the resources to focus on a handful of seats. Armed with the Tory strategy, the Liberals can focus their considerable energy on those Tory hope-seats. That makes it even less likely the Conservatives could win enough seats to make up a minority.
Realistically, the Liberals are looking at a majority government with 30 seats. The other two parties will divide up the other 10 between them. Both the Conservatives and the NDP should look to the future. They should consider a merger, as SRBP suggested the other day.
News that the Conservatives are courting former New Democrat member of parliament Ryan Cleary is a confirmation that such a merger is feasible. Some people may not understand what is going on here, but the prospect of a Cleary run for the provincial Conservatives taps into a potentially to a powerful segment of both parties.
Cleary represents the anti-Confederate slash “nationalist” band of townies. Historically, they joined the Conservatives in 1949 but since the 1970s, a significant number of them have found a home in the New Democratic Party. Cleary was a devotee of Danny Williams and within the NDP, Cleary had plenty of soul mates. Not the least of them is Greg Malone.
Cleary is a good fit for the provincial Conservatives and the New Democrats. He could be the political force that brings the two parties together. Such a merger might alienate the public sector unions’ leadership, but frankly, they are of little practical value to any political party in Newfoundland and Labrador. The resulting party – call it the United Newfoundland and Labrador Party - could find common ground on far more issues than would divide them.