In other jurisdictions, minority governments are notable by their brevity as much as for their instability and lack of progress on normally intractable problems. We have some of those. Locally, the 1971 election is our singular post-Confederation encounter with minority government. It was marked chiefly by chicanery — inducements to Members to switch Parties — and it was short-lived. We would never have to worry about something like that ever happening again, would we?
Many will see the election outcome as a judgement on Dwight Ball's leadership: his indecision and his lack of forthrightness. Indeed, his poor approval ratings were earned early and got worse. Why he was the centrepiece of the Liberal Campaign ads, I’ll never understand.
No one will argue that, when the Liberals won the election in 2015, they were handed a poisoned chalice by the Tories. The decisions they took — Muskrat and huge deficits in particular — were so egregious that the Liberals ought to have been able to bury the P.C.’s for at least two generations. The bumbling began with Ball giving Ed Martin a multi-million dollar handshake, and continued with a ham-fisted display of political cowardice by raising taxes in the 2016 Budget in place of taking an axe to spending.
By far the greatest display of bad judgement was the Liberals’ assurances that our fiscal problems were under control and that rate mitigation would be painlessly achieved — which suited the Tories perfectly.
One of their own described the Liberals’ litany of errors and mismanagement as “fifty shades of dumb!” Who could disagree?
Amateur hour has found a secure home in other arenas, too. Everyone noticed Ches Crosbie’s unscripted lack of class in not, at least, congratulating Ball and promising to work with him, a matter to which I will return. The same borrishness was practiced by politician/businessman Paul Antle a few days earlier on Burin Peninsula, when he left no doubt as to the linkage between aquaculture-related jobs, the governing Liberals, and the purchase of the Marystown Yard. And bad judgement got a boost by Her Honor the Lieutenant Governor's unwise decision to be in the proximity of her old Provincial and Federal Riding during an election.
Some things never change. But what now? What should the public gird themselves for within the context of our new political circumstance?
The concern over minority government, stated at the outset, is directed at our likely impossible fiscal position.
Let’s ask the most obvious question: with a return to the Polls an omnipresent fact of life requiring that each Party stays in the voters’ good books, which one will propose cuts to spending? The Liberals? The Tories? The NDP? One of the two Independents? Who have we missed?
A problem that is likely already beyond our capability to reverse can only worsen. In an economy heavily dominated by government spending and employment, no one will be meting out pain to an electorate looking for leadership that is insisting someone else should be tapped.
Right now, there is only time to play politics; survival is destiny's political exigency. Ches Crosbie spelled it out on Thursday night. It will be the same for the Liberals and the NDP, except that they know some things are best said by others.
The only certainty is that no Party, except the Tories, wants a quick return to the Polls. The Liberals are seeking a new leader; they will not allow Dwight anything except a civil exit. They will attend to the issue early in case the Government collapses prematurely. Secondly, all the Parties need to replenish their coffers; without money, the Campaign ads can only get worse.
The next year will be dominated by extreme partisanship and a keen eye to which Members might be “open-minded” about switching.
The political leaders will gather their new Caucuses, each containing brand-new members that they neither know nor, at this early stage, trust.
Powerbrokers — former leaders, former MHAs, Party officials, and indeed anyone enabled with information or influence — will be instructed to engage the new ones in particular. Opportunities for leverage will be the singular preoccupation.
The Independents, Eddie Joyce and Paul Lane, know that they are kingmakers. Eddie Joyce’s distain for Ball and his nemesis, Sherry Gambin-Walsh, does not extend to the Liberal Party to which he has unshakeable loyalty. Ball’s exit will solve only one of those issues. However, on a solo basis, Joyce will not bring down the Government in a Confidence vote.
Paul Lane has a different history. And he has already indicated that he will not accept the Speaker’s Chair and will remain an Independent. He is savvy enough to wait until greater clarity is carried on the political winds.
The egos inside every Caucus will assume a new proportion. The Premier will be careful not to disappoint any Caucus Member; all who desire a Cabinet post will have one or, failing that, a position befitting their enlarged self-perception.
Every Member’s health and well-being will be monitored, should those have terminal possibilities.
For the public — especially the media — every announcement, speech, or appointment will be assessed within this new paradigm of heightened suspicion, distrust, and personal and political self-interest.
Ches Crosbie can smell victory’s uncertain scent. His worry is that the Liberals will come up with a respectable leadership candidate, someone that the public finds more endearing than either he or Ball. He can’t give the Liberals an inch. He has to take them down at the earliest, and he knows it.
The NDP were awarded a second chance, though any growth will be hard-earned. There is no fourth Seat even within striking distance, which suggest that they will have to play the long game. Their next opportunity occurs when the wheels fall off the fiscal bus.
Meanwhile, this maelstrom of political intrigue will be parsed daily; the news might actually contain… some news.
A balanced Budget in 2022-23? Of course, ‘rate mitigation’, too. And a chicken in every pot and…