19 January 2019

The Spring Election - when and why #nlpoli

There's likely going to be an election before Victoria Day.

If - by some miracle - the Liberals manage to win the Topsail-Paradise by-election next week you could be at the polls before the beer turns green for a day.

If you haven't heard that,  don't say now that you haven't been warned.

Since the federal and provincial elections would occur around the same time if everything stayed on the same course,  it's been a virtual certainty since 2015 that the provincial election would move by a few weeks or a few months ahead in 2019 or back into 2020.

Since last year, though, the signs have been mounting that the Liberals will go to the polls sometime in the spring.

When it comes to indicators, let's leave aside the fact that they went into election mode in the middle of 2017 around the time Cathy Bennett quit as finance minister.  The Liberal messaging switched to diabetic-coma-inducing smarminess. Everything was sunshine and roses and puppies and bunnies even if it really wasn't. Then last year,  as voters in a by-election made it plain they were still worried about electricity rates and wanted answers now,  the government folks asked the public utilities board to do less than what the government's own gnomes had been doing for the previous 18 months but to report back long after the likely election about what they'd learned about electricity rates with Muskrat Falls.

A combination of factors made the spring a likely election time:
  1. For starters, the Liberals had a lead over the Tories in the polls that was good enough to give them a majority of seats. They've managed to have a lead for some time now.
  2. While there were no likely problems in the neat term,  the longer you go into 2019,  the prospect of an economic down-turn or some other problem could affect the Liberal numbers.
  3. The Liberals were also way ahead of either of the other parties in election fundraising.
  4. The Tories found a new leader but,  despite some anticipation, Ches Crosbie turned out to be phenomenally ineffective as party leader. 
  5. The NDP were no threat to anyone, except maybe the Tories in a few townie seats.
All of that pointed toward a spring election, as noted around these parts in the middle of December.  Now the local media are chatting about the possibility of a spring election.  Minor problem.  John Gushue's got his facts a bit unfactual on some aspects and that needs sorting.

The Unfixed Election Date

Almost 15 years after Danny Williams' Crowd buggered around with the provincial election laws and left a mess in their wake,  people still cannot get this right.

Gushue claims that the election has to be in October and that there's a penalty in the election law if that gets changed.


Just no.

The 2004 changes started with a simple sentence:  nothing in the rest of this section changes the power of the Lieutenant Governor to call an election at any time. Arguably, that nullified the idea of a fixed election at all, but at the very least it allows there could be an election at any time *before* the date spelled out in the sentences that followed that blanket "nothing changes" clause.

There is NO penalty clause whatsoever.  There's no practical penalty for shifting the date either - unless we are talking about a party perceived as heading for imminent defeat that pushes things off closer to the constitutional limit of five years.  Not the case here.  Not an issue.

For those who want to read the words,  it is Section 3 of the House of Assembly Act.

In 2015,  Paul Davis and his Crowd shifted the election date that year to November 30.  They also added a clause that says in a year when - like 2019 - there's a clash with the federal election, and the Premier thinks this is a problem on April 1,  then he or she shall advise the Lieutenant Governor the election will happen in November.  That's spelled out in Davis' amendment. 

Now that section really doesn't matter at all in the greater scheme since the election may come at any time, without penalty:  "Notwithstanding another provision of this section, the Lieutenant-Governor may, by proclamation in Her Majesty's name, prorogue or dissolve the House of Assembly when the Lieutenant-Governor sees fit."

The reason this April 1 date is important is because some folks in the Confederation Building are so incredibly pedantic these days that you might see the Premier actually announcing the election on April 1.  There's nothing that says he would have to go visit the LG on that date or make the announcement but watch out for it.  Not so long ago, the prospect of having Easter celebrations occur during an election might put people off but don't bet on it this year.  Look at the current by-election.  Writ dropped before Christmas even though everyone knew the last date to call the by-election was in early January and that the election would have to be over before the end of the month.

So put Easter to one side - Easter Sunday is April 21 - and look towards April for a potential election call.  The House would already be sitting by the way.  It resumes the current session on March 4.  The government could even start a new session, drop a throne speech and even a budget as campaign documents and then roll to the polls on April Fool's Day.

Trudeau and Scheer?  Wrong pair.

Gushue makes a big deal out of national polls that show the federal Tories and Liberals in some kind of death grip.  National level polls are as useful in sorting out provincial election issues as a telescope you bought on Amazon is for tracking the rovers on Mars.  You'd be lucky if you could *see* Mars.

In this case, though, the regional polling that is in public shows the one place in the country where the federal Liberals remain hugely popular is Atlantic Canada.  Scheer has little traction and really isn't interested in more, as evident from his regional town hall meeting in Fredericton.  Folks in Roddickton won't be making that trip even if they could get cheap air fares from Deer Lake.

So the prospect of Albertans or Ontarians not loving Justin Trudeau will have zero impact on voting in this province, folks., no matter when a provincial election occurs.

What might have an impact is if a couple of local Tory stalwarts decide to try a switch to federal politics.  Scuttlebutt has it that's likely to happen.  A quick election would have the Tories announcing the departure of a couple of caucus members in safe seats.  Not a huge issue, necessarily,  just like winning in a safe seat doesn't really show momentum no matter what some people like to say.  But losing a couple of potential cabinet ministers (or former ones) right before an election looks like  a bit of a blow to the mo'.

New Faces

The idea of a spring election is not news on any level to political watchers.

And, we have cleared off a few factual points.

So what *is* an interesting question for the coming election?

Well, who is running of course.

On the Tory side,  the face to watch is Judy Manning.  She's been working the hardest of anyone in the last two by-elections.  Expect to see her as a candidate.  If the Tories run her smartly - in a seat she can actually win - they could negate that appearance of losing momentum with the splash that comes from Manning's candidacy.  She got screwed over big-time by Davis on several levels but that is nothing compared to what she brings to the table.  Manning has a lot of qualities that could help the Tories, if they deployed her correctly.

The Dippers have a problem.  They own two seats in St. John's and while they should be a wider threat across metro, they are basically irrelevant beyond those two seats.  Veteran Lorraine Michael is safe in her seat, should she run again, but without her,  the party will suffer.  They need a strong candidate or two.  No names have popped up yet.  That's a problem.  The NDP have nothing to do but get ready for an election and they seem to be woefully unprepared, yet again.

On the Liberal side, some things are obvious.  Ed Joyce will run again, as an independent, and he will win. There's a sacrificial lamb opening there for some Liberal who wants to give it a shot.

In metro the Liberals have an opening in Dale Kirby's seat now that he too is out of the caucus.  Not sure what Dale's future holds but it is probably back to the university for him.  That seat could become a battleground as all three parties should put forward strong candidates in a seat any of them could theoretically win.  Who would the Liberals run there?  Good question.  There are a few names who could run there or in other townie seats.  Depending on who that candidate is,  you might see a few others stepping in to the spots on the Avalon where the Liberals have openings.

Either way,  expect to go to the polls this spring.