Of course, the Tories didn’t exactly drop off the face of the Earth, having captured 43% of the popular vote in comparison with the Liberals’ 44%, and winning fifteen Seats. That is reason enough to consider what the election outcome says about the Tory Campaign and what it portends for Ches Crosbie.
Strange as it may seem, the biggest post-election consequence for many may have been a mild case of PTSD. The mere mention of the word “promise” instantly overwhelms, resulting in feelings of love and affection similar to that which la Francophonie might have experienced during the 1995 Quebec referendum. It was as if Brian Tobin’s antidote to a Federalist defeat — kill them with kindness — was replicated here during the pre-Budget period, with untold pre-writ droppings. Evidently, the placebo imparted one particular side-effect: a particular ringing in the ears. First-hand accounts suggest that the malady had the character of a coin reflecting the sound of an empty Treasury and an unimpressed electorate, many having refused to swallow it.
Ches Crosbie’s “Cheap” rate mitigation plan held similar effect as did reminders of Muskrat and Tory fiscal recklessness.
Nevertheless, the late bid by Bill Matthews, former Tory MHA and former Liberal MP, to become the Tory MHA — again — in Burin-Grand Bank constituted warning that Crosbie’s crop of new candidates was thin. The close of nominations also recorded that St. John’s South would have no Tory candidate on the ballot.
Lucky for Crosbie, he had the gutsy lady from Roddickton, Sheila Fitzgerald, to inject a bonfire of pluckiness into the Tory campaign — one that, as Leader, he failed to incite. He may be fortunate that she lost. Now he only has Tony Wakeham, who opposed him for the leadership last year, watching for his next stumble.
Still mind-boggling is that he refused to distance himself from the baggage left by Danny Williams, Tom Marshall and the Constable Premier, or acknowledge their role in Muskrat and a ruined Treasury. That he was able to juggle fake rate mitigation and the evolving catastrophe those names represent, coming up with fifteen Seats anyway, is no minor miracle.
The result only gives the pundits further proof of the adage that ‘Oppositions don’t win elections — governments lose them’. Those Tory gains are in every respect a judgment on Dwight Ball’s three-and-a-half years of miserable leadership.
Crosbie may never again get as good a chance to take down the Government.
While some will point to his lack of charisma and poor communications skills, those issues paled against the challenges posed by a P.C. Party in deep disarray.
Skilful and well-organized local district organizations helped the Tories take down Joey Smallwood in the 1971 and ’72 general elections. It was a system directed towards voter identification and turn-out that Brian Peckford understood and took pains to encourage — with great effect. Later Tory Premiers, from Williams to the Constable, let a system critical to grass-roots engagement slowly lapse. Granted, the decay was aided, too, by social change, including an aging population and the substitution of the iPad for face-to-face contact as the principal means of social and political connectivity, but no Party can advance without boots on the ground.
Unlike the Liberals, however, who at least set up a central Call Centre to connect with voters, the Tories, their coffers long empty, offered few supports to local Candidates. In some quarters there is talk that Crosbie’s own name is attached to a large bank Note, without which the outcome of the election might have been far worse.
Few would argue that a better-financed operation might have delivered a more expert media campaign (a fact that applies to all the Parties equally) which, in turn, may have delivered better message penetration and smoothing of the blunt edges on a stodgy Party leader.
Notably, in metro St. John’s — the Tories’ traditional stronghold, where much hope was placed for unseating the Liberals — the sparsity of even basic signage gave no hint of either energy or confidence, let alone a resurrected bastion of blue.
Admittedly, this minutiae of political campaigns and why the Tories failed is tangential to the larger picture.
As it stands, not just the public, but no Party wants a fast return to the Polls even if the recycled lawn signs should not be returned to long-term storage. The NDP bask in the glow of discovery. It is their claim on the ‘balance of power’, nevertheless, that makes the Tories’ fifteen-Seat achievement momentarily inconsequential.
It’s the Liberals who have the upper hand, if only because they know that the refusal of support by the NDP is a choice that, at its core, carries the weight of immense political risk. Alison Coffin does not seem like somebody who is oblivious to oblivion.
On the other hand, Premier Ball is done like toast, his ineptitude now given manifestation by ‘minority’ status. He will exit stage left as soon as the powerbrokers tell him it’s time. This time the white smoke of a leadership convention will likely contain less carbon than emitted when Ball was the choice of the Convention.
Don’t think for a moment that a tired electorate is a sufficient ward against pursuit of a new mandate, especially when the awful realities of Muskrat and empty public coffers bear down, threatening to ruin a good election message.
This is a long way of saying that the Liberals are mindful perhaps less of their minority status than of a narrowing political window within which to secure a majority. In the forthcoming struggle of partisan politics, Ches Crosbie will play only a minor role — and possibly only a temporary one — unless he gets busy.
Assured of victory by mid-election Polls, he heads a disappointed Caucus who will assess his every failing and wonder if Tony Wakeham might perform better. There is no group more fractious than those denied the largesse of victory, especially the role of Minister or the plum job of Parliamentary Assistant. Then, too, Wakeham’s disciples are Danny Williams’ children. There will be trouble.
Crosbie will have to begin now to do the rebuilding — finances, policy and organization — denied his Party, in part by his own inexperience, but in greater measure by his recent predecessors who were as reckless as they were unwise and self-aggrandizing.
It will be a tough slog for him, and there are no guarantees.
He will need a good script and stick to it.