This week the news broke that the former NDP Member of Parliament, Ryan Cleary, was considering running in the upcoming provincial election, not for the NDP, but for the Progressive Conservative Party. Aside from the obvious issue of lack of loyalty to the NDP, many found it curious that someone would leave the most left wing national party to join what was supposed to be the most right wing provincial party. Some would think that this shows Mr. Cleary’s lack of political conviction, and that he was simply basing his decision based on what would give him the best chance of re-election, but his decision actually says more about the PC Party and NL politics than it does about Ryan Cleary.
There is no right wing party in this province. There is a left wing party, the NDP, whose elected MHAs have never outnumbered the fingers on my right hand, and the Liberals and PCs, who have both mostly been consistently centrist or center-left for the past 40 years. NL politics largely exists in a vacuum separate from national politics, particularly when it comes to the PCs. Not only is there no allegiance with their federal counterparts, there is outright hostility.
While the Tories were clearly the more right wing party when it became a province of Canada, it has in recent years become steadily more of a left wing party, to the point where it is now more to the left than the Liberals. Just this week the Premier warned that a Liberal government would dramatically cut spending, and the Liberal leader, for his part, criticised the Premier a while back for his plan to raise the HST. The PCs, in addition to keeping the province’s tuition dramatically lower than the rest of Canada, have even come out with a policy whereby students no longer have to pay back the provincial portions of their student loans, something that would be too left wing for most NDP governments.
The role reversal of the two major parties started with Clyde Wells, who was the most conservative Premier the province has ever had. He fought bitter fights with unions (remember the “Clyde Lied” bumper stickers?), cut spending, and even tried unsuccessfully to privatize Newfoundland Hydro. If you are a center right party and the party in power moves to the right of you, you can’t help but move left if you want to get elected.
It’s not clear whether this lack of clear ideology is a bad thing. On one hand, it would make voters’ decisions less complicated if there was a clear left/right ideological divide among the parties, but on the other hand the stark ideological divide that has developed in the United States appears to be making the country almost ungovernable. Like it or not, we don’t have a right wing party in this province, and if a defeated federal NDP candidate wants to run for a provincial party that has a chance of forming a government, it is actually the PC party that is the most logical choice.