The Progressive Conservative Win, and a new Newfoundland and Labrador?

Okay, a brief foray into politics.

Last night I watched something that happens fairly rarely in Newfoundland (okay, this has never happened). The Liberals got absolutely crushed by an incumbent Progressive Conservative government. The Liberals won in 3 seats (one of which was closely contested) while the NDP got their old holdout of Signal Hill/Quidi Vidi). This is strange because even of those 3 seats won by the liberals, one was very close, and that one (my home district of Port de Grave) was one of those seats that I’d say you could run a dog in a red bandana and expect a win.

Conventional wisdom fell last night too. Many thought that the Liberal party in Newfoundland had at least a base support of about 30% of the popular vote, but the decades of cronyism came home to roost, and that support fell to a little over 20%. Is the Liberal party dead in Newfoundland? Definitely not, but they have some work to do.

Interestingly enough, that work will come from the fact that Danny Williams has changed the tenure of Newfoundland and Labrador politics. While many Newfoundland premiers have picked fights with Ottawa to gain votes, it actually seems that Danny picks those fights for the benefit of Newfoundland and Labrador, and seriously expects to win them. Danny has developed a persona that represents the best of what Newfoundlanders believe about themselves and want to be (hard-working, intelligent, articulate, fiery when faced with opposition, but friendly when offered real friendship).

More importantly however, Danny has actually raised the bar in the hope department in the province. Newfoundlanders and Labradorians are VERY proud people. Of provinces in Canada, we are still in the minority of ones that sometimes fly a “national” flag (the tricolour), and sing a “national” anthem (“The Ode to Newfoundland”), rather than using the corresponding symbols of Canada. There isn’t really much of a “separatist” movement, we just think that a federation actually is a partnership of peoples (we didn’t think Quebec was wrong to assert and protect their distinct culture, we just don’t like them pretending to be the only distinct culture).

All of that used to be at odds with Newfoundland politics (which often ignored Labrador), who would sometimes pay lip service to our identity as Newfoundlanders and Labradorians while still living for handouts from the feds. Danny has been the first to (wonder of wonders) use transfer payments to build up infrastructure and develop local economy to the point that (we hope) we will someday no longer need money from the rest of Canada. The PCs ran on a platform of a province standing as equals in a federation rather than a poor cousin to the people “upalong”. The Liberals ran on a platform of “saving” rural Newfoundland, and were crushed. The PCs claimed that if we are given what we were promised, we can begin to stand on our own.

The conventional Liberal wisdom has been that the politicians job is to get elected, and then re-elected (a holdover from Joey Smallwood, and something a 5 time Tory incumbent openly refuted last night in an interview), the new wisdom is giving a vision of where we want this province to go in the future, and who we want to be as a people. The Liberals have missed a political shift, and have paid for that.

The only question that remains in my mind is whether we here on the east coast of Canada will do the work necessary to make the vision a reality, or if we will go back to selling salvation from a series of crises. As most people know, This people aren’t averse to hard work and proper self-esteem, now all we need to do is keep our politicians believing that.

Author: Stephen Dawe

Steve is a part-time vocational elder Calvary Baptist Church, St. John's as well as a full-time student at Memorial University of Newfoundland, in the Religious Studies Department.