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Monday 15 October 2012


When the St. John’s South MHA defected from the Tories, he stated that the people in his riding would help him decide where he will be seated on a more permanent basis.  I happen to live in Mr. Osborne’s riding; I want to take him up on his offer, now.
Mr. Osborne is a lifelong Tory; he has won five elections under the P.C. banner.  Upon defection, he said his problem did not arise from any single issue except for the Tory leadership, though some backbench MHAs and Cabinet Ministers may now be added to his list, given their visceral response to his move.  

Cartoon Credit: John Meaney, Rant and Roar
When Jim Hodder, an MHA for Stephenville and former Premier, Tom Rideout deserted the Liberal Party in the mid-1980s, they did do so, not in consequence of the then Liberal Leader, but, ostensibly at least, on account of a policy that favoured the Federal Liberals on oil and gas issues, in contrast to the NL centered position aggressively (and, in hindsight, successfully) advanced by the Peckford Tories.

In every interview, the St. John’s South MHA was consistent: the problem was Dunderdale.  This might suggest Osborne may wish to go back ‘home’.  He will have to wait until Dunderdale self-destructs; though, by then, the P.C. Party may be a poisoned chalice if Muskrat Falls is sanctioned.
For this reason, the possibility of Osborne re-joining the P.C.s, may well be a Hobson’s choice (no choice at all).  But, we’ll call it option #1.

Option #2, he can join the Liberal Party.  The fit makes sense, ideologically; the Liberals and the Tories are just two cans of peas. The real difference between them tends to be leadership, so increasingly the contrast is one of history, not philosophy; otherwise, each party merely constitutes a different brand.  Problem is, the Liberal brand power is at an all-time low and is stuck.

Tom Osborne’s riding magnifies the difficulty. In the last general election Osborne took 57.9% of the popular vote compared with 38.9% for the NDP and an insignificant 3.2% for the Liberal Party.  If you said, end the analysis there, who could argue. But, alas, this item is about the present and the future.
Liberal Leader, Dwight Ball, is a gentleman and, I believe, trustworthy; he wants to be Leader, except he doesn’t possess, what Brian Mulroney called the ‘je ne sais quoi’ winners need. Worse, he appears indecisive and has not utilized his time as Interim Leader, to define himself and his Party. 
Ball appears spooked by Dean MacDonald, Danny Williams’ buddy, who is said to be positioning himself for a run at the Liberal leadership by leading a Liberal Party policy tour.  This is the same Dean MacDonald who states that he is steadfastly in favour of Muskrat Falls; he offers no caveats, not even a ceiling on construction estimates.  His stint as Liberal policy wonk and his mission to revitalize the Liberal Party says as much about Dwight Ball as it does Dino MacDonald.

Think about it.  The Muskrat Falls project, as its wheels fall off with cost overruns and other issues, is almost certain to destroy the Tory party for an entire generation.  A strong Liberal Leader, even an interim one, would ask someone of Mr. MacDonald’s ilk to take a hike for fear the stench of Musk-rat would stick to the Liberal Party, too.
It’s not as if Dean MacDonald has been doing such a great job, either.  Asked by a reporter to explain the low turn-out at local policy meetings, he offered, that it was a low key initiative.

The Libs have six seats; the party has been moribund, comatose (take your pick) in recent opinion polls.  It is going nowhere, the NDP is eating its lunch and Ball is content with listening to a lame excuse from the guy who wants his job, who wants to be Premier!  Ball should have fired him weeks ago!
Of course, this situation speaks to leadership. If Ball expects to attract Osborne, he has to take charge, demonstrate that he is on a mission.  He has quite a distance to go.    

This is Option #2 for Tom Osborne? The phrase ‘political orphan’ suddenly seems relevant.
Option #3, join the NDP.  Anyone who ignores the rise of the NDP in this Province is oblivious to, what I believe, is a paradigm shift in partisan preferences. The trend is still young; an uncertain Liberal Party and an inability by Premier Dunderdale to connect with the public will give the NDP greater impetus. 

The younger demographic is less fearful of an NDP ideology that favors left of center policies, more social spending and government engagement in the economy.
Party Leader Lorraine Michael is intelligent and a capable communicator.  Though the Party found it difficult, at first, to steer around support by Jack Harris and the Federal NDP on Muskrat Falls, she is beginning to see that the issue is a poison pill that will bring down the Tories.  In addition, the Tories have made it believable that the NDP could never be as reckless with the Province’s finances as they have been. 

Still, Ms. Michael has been more cautious than necessary.  She has held back on a host of key issues and she needs to take greater ownership of opposition to the Muskrat Falls project.  Michael also needs to articulate her Party’s plan for securing a meaningful debate in the House of Assembly.
The irony is that, if Muskrat is sanctioned, the NDP may be the Party that will have to trim public services and a plethora of social programs to pay for the project.   

Can Tom Osborne find a home within the NDP?   If the Tories don’t make some tough decisions soon to shake Dunderdale and the Liberals don’t start showing some spine, you might just see how quickly a red tory can suddenly turn orange.
One final point: After MHA Yvonne Jones was elected an Independent Member in 1996, she took her time; only joining the Liberal Party a few months prior to the 1999 Campaign.

My suggestion to Mr. Osborne: no hurry.  Enjoy the view from the Opposition side of the House of Assembly.  For the next two years, you are going to witness some fundamental changes both inside and outside the House; (for starters, my bet is Dean MacDonald will return to obscurity as soon as Muskrat Falls is sanctioned).  Most importantly, Osborne will have an opportunity to observe which Party is most deserving of his seat. Indeed, if Osborne turns out to be on the wrong side of that decision his value to either opposition party maybe doubtful.
You may have thought there was an option #4.  If Osborne understands anything about politics, he knows that independent candidates have a poor track record at election time. Yvonne Jones was one of the exceptions.

While Tom Osborne is about to understand the importance of patience, he must be aware that his speech is no longer restricted by caucus discipline.  He will be expected to share his opinions and to influence public debate. 
It will be interesting to see which party most effectively engages him in their strategy to elevate the art and practice of opposition to a whole new level.