29 July 2016

The Unhappy Gang #nlpoli

The provincial cabinet ended a "retreat" at The Rooms by holding a news conference on Thursday using as a backdrop posters commemorating the slaughter of the Newfoundland regiment at Beaumont Hamel a century ago.

Not exactly the kind of image you want to have but at least it fit with a new poll from MQO that shows the Liberals are now in third place behind the provincial New Democrats with the Conservatives on top.

You can see the party choice numbers in the table, below.  April and July are MQO.  May is Corporate Research Associates.  Compare the MQO numbers:  the Conservatives have grown eight points since April and are now in first place.  The Liberals have dropped five points and are in third place.


The Conservatives are only five points ahead of the Liberals in July. The margin of error for the poll is four points, so don't get too excited yet. Now compare CRA to MQO. Notice that there is actually very little change in the past two months.  That's with the Ed Martin fiasco,  Sign-gate, and everything else that's happened in the past three months. The April to July MQO changes don't look nearly as exciting now.

For the Liberals, generally, they shouldn't be too worried.  They have fallen a long way since last fall but no one is running headlong to the other guys yet.  There is room to get those voters back.  Besides, there won;t be another election until 2019, no matter some folks will tell you.

That doesn't mean Dwight Ball is doing fine, though.  Ball will face a leadership review vote at the party convention in the fall.   The Telegram's James McLeod wrote about the vote two weeks ago. Delegates at the convention in Gander coming this fall will be asked if they want a leadership review. No matter how you slice it, the question will be a judgment on Ball's leadership thus far. After the November vote, he'll face another one next summer, as the Liberals plan to move their convention to June, once more.

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Look at the MQO numbers for Ball's leadership.  In April he had a mean rating - the average - of 3.7 out of 10, with 10 being the highest ranking. Now he is getting an average rating of 3.2, but the percentage ranking him less than five is now up to 85, from 74% in April.

It would be interesting if MQO checked to see if the folks who said they would vote Liberal are the same folks who gave Ball ratings higher than five.

The numbers in both questions in April and July don't match up exactly.  They are similar.  In the most optimistic view, then Dwight should be fine come the fall.

But here's the thing:  the political situation is like the government's financial one.  It's unprecedented. There are a lot of angry folks out there and some of the Liberals might have extra reasons to be angry at Dwight Ball.

Most leaders in the province have survived leadership review votes.  You just can't be sure, though, that a whole bunch of angry folks won't go into the booth in the fall and mark their secret ballot for a leadership review thinking that their vote won't matter because - as the conventional wisdom would have it - Ball is going to win handily. When the votes are counted in that scenario,  Dwight winds up with less than the number he needs and suddenly there's a leadership race.

That's the sort of situation that gave Ontarians Premier Bob Rae. It's also the situation that saw New Democrats punt Tom Mulcair unceremoniously last spring.  So yeah,  with the economy the way it is and with the Premier with unprecedentedly crappy polling numbers, there's no guarantee of what will happen in the fall.  People should not take anything for granted.

Then there is the caucus.  A majority need to get re-elected in 2019 to get a pension.  Ball cannot count on them being as indifferent to the political future as the pensionable Tories were for Kathy Dunderdale.  Every day for them was another day fattening their payout and there was no way to get them out until they wanted to go. The Liberals won't be able to endure four years of crappy polls that lead to certain defeat.

Ball also has to reckon on two other difficulties. With a small cabinet and very few perks to hand out, his back-bench likely won't be easily persuaded to suffer through another few budgets as rough as or more likely rougher than the last one. The economy and the government's likely financial situation place Ball in the unenviable position of having to cut a lot more - deep painful cuts - or risk a worsening financial situation that could rapidly spiral out of control. If Ball keeps causing the back bench more political grief without some benefit,  they will be less and less likely to let Ball go on risking their political future.

Ball might survive this fall's vote.  But he has to look forward to another vote next year.  You can bet that as sure as Dwight Ball's hair is grey that lots of Liberal insiders have been mapping out scenarios about the latest they can go before they get rid of him in order to maximise the chance of re-election in 2019.  He'd be smart to do the same thing and act accordingly.

Bottom line:  there's no guarantee Dwight Ball will last as Liberal leader. Ball will have to produce better political results for the party within the next 12 months or risk being tossed out on his rear. If the party members don't get him at the convention, his caucus could leobarry him.

That could happen at any time.