The only people who think this is a dull election don’t know anything about politics.
On the day before nominations closed for candidates, the governing provincial Conservatives admitted on Thursday that they probably won’t have a full slate of candidates. Reporters were quick to remind everyone that we haven’t seen that situation since 1972.
That was the year the Conservatives won a majority government and put an end to 23 years of uninterrupted rule by the Liberals under Joe Smallwood. That was also the first time since Confederation that we’d had a change of political party governing the province. The second one of the two in the 20th century came in 1989.
Think about that for a second. In the 40 years after Confederation we changed governing parties precisely twice. Come December we will have done precisely the same thing within the first 15 years of the new century.
Just think for a moment what that says about changes in our province and our society.
While you are pondering that, take a look at the polls. Within the past decade, we have seen the public swing from supporting the Conservatives overwhelmingly, to supporting the Liberals overwhelmingly. It’s not like the Liberals have been hiding in the bushes just waiting for for a chance to get back into power.
Far from it. What we have seen over the past decade is a dramatic shift in support across the population from one party to another and then to another. In fact, between 2012 and 2014, the population cycled through all three political parties according to public opinion polls.
We are looking at not just a change of party but also at the possible decimation of one or both of the other political parties in the province. That has never happened since 1949. It’s the tale of a shift in voting in the province that could have significant repercussions for years to come.
Consider what happens if the Conservatives and the New Democrats are left without a seat in the House. Over the past 20 years, the opposition parties - regardless of stripe – have relied on the public funding through the House to subsidise their party operations. Without that public funding, the parties are going to have to find money from somewhere else and rebuild and re-organize themselves.
They will have to fund themselves out of donor contributions. And if the Liberals follow through on commitments to reform campaign finance. Without corporate and union donations – for example the parties would have to make appeals directly to taxpayers.
That could be most dramatic a set of changes for the New Democrats. They won’t be able to hold themselves pure in thought and entirely reliant on union donations and tax dollars. They will have to become a genuinely democratic party, reflecting the views of voters. Well, they will have to do that if they want to be a political party. Otherwise, they can just become a group that lobbies the other parties to do things for this cause or another.
The Conservatives are most likely to emerge from decimation as a stronger entity. They have a base of experience politicians and campaigners. By reforming their financing, the Conservatives would break the control of the back-room cabal that has run things since 2001. With the death of the Williams party, provincial Conservatives could emerge stronger in every respect.
Within a couple of election cycles, we might wind up with a genuinely competitive political system for the first time since Confederation. Two political parties that offer voters a genuine alternative. Just imagine how starkly different that would be from the current situation where three parties all support exactly the same things.
Want a strong opposition? There’s how you’d get one. All those Conservative and NDP supporters pleading with voters to give them just one seat need to recognise that you can’t have a strong opposition if all parties agree.
So yeah, folks, there is nothing dull about an an election that could lead to a profound transformation in party politics in Newfoundland and Labrador.
Lovers of pathetic sideshows have had not one but two in this election. By the time you read this, we will know the results of the latest poll in Windsor Lake. Not surprisingly, Ryan Cleary will lose and lose badly. The only Tory to turn in a lower vote count will be the district where there is no Tory.
The other drama isn’t worth all the tweets on Twitter but Cleary is different. The Cleary crap epitomises the political mess that is the Conservative party in Newfoundland and Labrador. He offered exactly nothing to the Conservatives at all. Obviously nothing. In fact, Cleary provided to be a gigantic embarrassment. If anyone thought Cleary would damage the NDP, they misunderstood how hard up the NDP was itself.
But by accepting Cleary into the Conservative Party, the brain trust of the current fiasco has set up a rather interesting leadership play in the next year. Odds are very good we will see Cleary face off against Steve Kent. A serious candidate might enter the fray. Judy Manning might be just the ticket for them The Conservatives hoping to build a real party should hope so.
But with the Kent-Cleary clash we will see plenty of drama from two of the biggest self-interested drama queens ever to grace the political stage in Newfoundland and Labrador.
And while all that other stuff has been going on, you’ve had a political party go from zero to a likely sweep of an election in a mere two years. Just a second though. That amazing story isn’t even recognised as a story by the folks who supposedly know all about politics in Newfoundland and Labrador.
The only people who think this is a dull election are people who don’t know the first thing about politics in Newfoundland and Labrador.