Tag Archives: Newfoundland politics

US Presidential Candidates Should Study Recent NL Politics Before Dropping Out of Race

This Presidential primaries currently underway in the United States have been the most shocking and unpredictable in recent, and even distant, memory. Who would have thought that a reality TV star like Donald Trump, who advocates banning Muslims from the country, supports universal health care, and bashes the entire Bush family every chance he gets, would be the frontrunner to win the Republican nomination for President? On the Democratic side, how many people thought that Hilary Clinton would be facing a serious challenge from a 74 year old socialist from Vermont?

On the Republican side, many people worried about a Trump victory are suggesting that John Kasich, the Governor of Ohio, should exit the race so that Marco Rubio could then unite the so-called moderate vote and stop Donald Trump before it’s too late. After coming second in New Hampshire, Mr. Kasich has not done so well in the next two states to cast ballots and many people now believe that he has no chance at winning the nomination. If Bernie Sanders is unable to score another big win like he did in New Hampshire there will be increasing pressure for him to bow out of the race and let Hilary Clinton focus on the general election. But before any of the candidates drop out, they might want to take a look at some of the recent political history in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Two years ago, after Kathy Dunderdale was forced out as leader of the Progressive Conservative party, there was race between two prominent businesspeople, Bill Barrie and Frank Coleman (a third candidate was later ruled ineligible). Mr. Coleman was perceived to be backed by popular former premier Danny Williams and the party establishment, while Mr. Barrie ran an outsider campaign that put him at odds with many in the Party’s establishment. When Mr. Barrie came to feel that the cards were being stacked against him by party insiders, he withdrew from the contest in protest, leaving Frank Coleman unopposed.

Shockingly, before he had the chance to be acclaimed as leader, Mr. Coleman suddenly withdrew from the race, citing family reasons after some critical press coverage about his business dealings with the province and his views on abortion, thus leaving the Progressive Conservative leadership race completely devoid of candidates. Had Bill Barrie fought on even pretty much everyone, including himself, believed he had no chance at winning, we would have become the Premier of Newfoundland and Labrador.

Before any candidates drop out of US presidential race, they should remember that, like the Barrie/Colman contest that wasn’t, anything truly can happen in politics. There is no such thing as an inevitable candidate. Donald Trump is a perpetual scandal generator whose campaign could blow up at any moment. Hilary Clinton is still being dogged by investigations into her use of personal e-mail servers for government business. Heck, we are talking about two people pushing seventy, so it would not be that far-fetched for one of their candidacies to be derailed by an illness or some health related issue.

The 2016 presidential primaries are unlike anything we have ever seen. If there was ever a race where there would be some kind of shocking turn of events it would be this one. If I were John Kasich or Bernie Sanders, and I really believed myself to be the best candidate for President, I would keep my name on the ballot right to the bitter end.

Newfoundland Separatists Should Visit Labrador

With this past week’s passing of Jacques Parizeau, the former premier and crusader for Quebec independence, there has been not only an outpouring of sympathy, but also of respect for years of public service in the province. Tom Mulcair and even Justin Trudeau, son of the Quebec separatist movement’s arch nemesis, attended the funeral. Many in English Canada have expressed some distaste for all of the praise being heaped on someone who almost caused the breakup of Canada. I don’t disagree with that point of view, but I also know that a not insignificant minority of people in Newfoundland would vote for independence if we were to ever have a referendum (and $100 oil). I’ve known and respected many people who hold these views over the years and I would probably go to their funerals and say nice things about them as well.

No doubt some people reading this will be quick to point out that I used the old name of our province instead of our current, more inclusive name of Newfoundland and Labrador. I didn’t. I was referring to the island, not the province. Though there are separatists in Labrador, they don’t want to separate from Canada; they want to separate from Newfoundland.

One of my most interesting experiences during my short stint working in Goose Bay was learning how Newfoundland was the source of all of Labrador’s problems, and the solution to all those problems would be to separate from Newfoundland and keep all of their resources for themselves. I learned that Labrador forests were being pillaged to feed the paper mill in Corner Brook. A separate territory of Labrador could keep its wood for its own sawmills and live comfortably off nickel royalties and electricity sales for generations to come. What was particularly odd was that these arguments were being made by people who were either born on the island, or were children of people born on the island. The natives that I meet had no interest in Labrador becoming a territory; they were focused on their own land claims and self-government issues.

What was striking is that I had grown up hearing how I was the aggrieved one. Ottawa was the oppressor who was reaping the benefits of our natural resources and selling off our fish to foreign governments to help sell prairie wheat. It was an odd feeling to find myself being looked at as the one doing the oppressing. I would recommend that anyone who would like to separate from Canada, or at least thinks Canada is the source of all our problems, should probably take a trip to Labrador this summer. You may come back with a new perspective on separatism.

Newfoundland and Labrador Has Oddest Politics on the Planet Earth

Newfoundland and Labrador has long been known for its unique culture, dialect, climate, and even its geology, but the most interesting thing about the province has gone largely unnoticed; its politics. Over the past several decades, the United States has become increasingly polarized along ideological lines. On one side you have Republicans who are socially conservative and believe in small government, and on the other side you have Democrats, who are socially liberal and believe in big government. Many south of the border have lamented how this ideological divide has led to increasingly bitter partisanship.

Unlike the United States and federal Canadian politics, there is virtually no ideological difference between the two main parties in Newfoundland and Labrador, the Conservatives and Liberals. When one party is in power, the other simply criticizes everything the government does without any consideration to ideology.

The most conservative premier the province has ever had, by far, was Clyde Wells, was a Liberal. He balanced the budget during the worst economic times in the province’s history and (unsuccessfully) attempted to privatize the government owned electric utility. Danny Williams, the most popular Conservative premier in the province’s history, increased the size of government, froze tuition levels, and made expanding the size and power of the electric utility one his top priorities.

In most places, the most bitter and polarizing causes of partisanship have to do with social issues like gay marriage and abortion rights, but social issues play absolutely no role in the province’s political debates. All the political parties, as are most of the electorate, are what one would describe as socially liberal. Yet despite all this, politics seems to be growing increasingly partisan and mean spirited.

Perhaps nothing illustrates the increasing partisanship more than the recent case of Don Dunphy. Mr. Dunphy was shot in his home by a police officer after making what were perceived by some (but not everyone) to be threatening tweets directed at some MHAs. The investigation into the shooting is ongoing, but already twitter and local blogs are filled with accusations that Mr. Dunphy was essentially assassinated by the police for criticizing the government.

A good barometer of the state of provincial politics would be the twitter feeds of some of the political media members. If you check out the feed of Paddy Daly, the host of the province’s most popular call-in show, you will see that half his tweets lately are about how much he loathes his Twitter followers. David Cochrane, the CBC’s chief political reporter, usually makes a weekly summary of his week on twitter, including how many new followers and retweets he had. Last week he instead tweeted a picture of a dumpster on fire. This week his feed featured an exasperated back and forth with a well-known local musician, Con O’Brien, who is a vocal critic of the current government. The exchange ended with each claiming to block the other and Mr. Cochrane telling Mr. O’Brien that his most well know song “sucked”. To be fair to Mr. Cochrane, he is far from the first one to lash out at Con O’Brien. Mr. O’Brien famously was involved in a backstage fistfight with one of his band members just before they were supposed to play a waterfront New Year’s Eve concert in St. John’s.

Things may well get worse before they get better. The ruling Conservatives are likely to lose power in the next election after holding power for 12 years, and there are legion of Conservative partisans who are actually looking forward to the Liberals being in charge if only for the opportunity to have a turn at being the ones who get to sit back and criticize everything the government does. Once they get that out of their system things may begin to return to normal. Neither the Liberals nor the Conservatives are led by a particularly fiery or partisan person, so there is a chance that tempers begin to settle down a year or so after the next election. It may be a slim chance, but it is a chance nonetheless.