Friday, 30 August 2013


The decision by St. John’s South MHA, Tom Osborne’s to join the Liberal Party, contains elements of surprise, risk and intrigue.  We’ll get to those in a moment.

Tom Osborne feels emboldened.  He believes the high vote that his St. John’s South District awarded him, over the past seventeen years, is a personal achievement; that it is not connected with his Tory affiliation. He may be correct; but, only in part. The Party Leader, the Party, the prevailing issues, the opposing candidates, as well as timing, all play a role in any electoral outcome.

Any Opposition Party likes to steal an elected Member from the Government.  Though Osborne had already left the Tories, either Party he joined still had something to gain.  For the winner, it is a public display of strength and credibility. For maximum effect it is best to get the timing right.  Tom didn’t or couldn’t. Likely, he had received a higher calling and decided to make his move now.
Besides, the Liberal Party, far too long in the political wilderness, for its own good, is in no position to contemplate more effective strategies or to say, no, to anyone.

From a different perspective, Osborne could have waited until mere weeks or months before the next election.  By then, the very open question, as to whether Dunderdale will exit the Office of Premier, will have also been answered.

But waiting would have demanded a logic that did not fit immediate political demands.

Don’t get too caught up in matters of political ideology, either, or any argument that the NDP was far too left of center for the MHA. When you spend public money, as have Williams/Dunderdale Governments, piled up large deficits and undertaken the largest public sector involvement in the economy, since the construction of the Reid Newfoundland Railway, any talk of right and left wing is, of necessity, moot.  Osborne was a part of that group.  Who is kidding whom?

So why does Osborne’s decision include surprise, risk and intrigue?

Why surprise? Because St. John’s South, like the balance of metro St. John’s, is not exactly known as a hotbed of support for the Liberal Party; in 2011, the Liberal Candidate won 3% of the vote and just 9% in the election prior.  Surprising, too, because Osborne made this move in the midst of the Liberal Leadership contest; he would have had nothing to lose had he waited to see which of the five leadership contenders won.  He could have given the winner a large boost heading into the House of Assembly, in the fall.

Why risk?  Because, notwithstanding evidence of a nascent revival of the Liberal Party in recent Opinion Polls, there is, as yet, no basis for the suggestion that any of this change is occurring in the St. John’s area.   While, in politics, as much can change in one week as in two years, the NDP juggernaut, in the Capital City, stands a strong chance of being solidified.   Osborne will not just be an ‘island in a storm’; he will be a target.
Remember, the NDP took 38% of the vote, in the last election.  Little wonder, as Osborne acknowledged, on CBC Here and Now, last evening, that he attempted to negotiate not being challenged for the NDP Nomination, next time, but that Leader Lorraine Michael refused. 

Why intrigue? The answer is only somewhat speculative.   The very fact that Osborne could not contain himself, until after the Liberal Leadership contest is over, is a key to understanding that ‘the game is afoot’. 

A Liberal Leadership Candidate needs Osborne’s endorsement; just as badly, the Candidate needs Tom Osborne’s considerable organizational skills and those of his large extended political family.

The Liberals have no idea the skill-set that has just been unleashed to take possession of its open selection process.

We know that a group of old Williams’ Tories, lawyers and businesspeople, have lost faith in Premier Dunderdale’s ability to regain the enormous political capital she has squandered, and are up to their armpits supporting a particular leadership candidate.
They don't want to be on the outside looking in.  Not now.

We know Osborne voted for Muskrat Falls.

The Liberals sent Brad Cabana packing, at an earlier time, when they determined that that leadership hopeful was from another nest. They should have done the same with Cathy Bennett, who had no affiliation with the Party, and only wanted the top job.  But Cathy had the $20,000 nomination fee and powerful friends.

The Liberals were right to want to accept Mr. Osborne’s offer of joining up. But a more prudent Liberal Party would have informed him that his application would be processed as soon as the new leader is chosen, who having been given a minute to size him up, would present him to the Liberal caucus.    

The Party did not possess that reserve.

A wide open Liberal leadership contest is, yes, so wide open, as to permit a good hi-jacking by outside interests.

One of the leadership candidates needs Tom’s endorsement and organization.

We will soon see which one.