Monday, 7 April 2014


Many people, and not just pundits, are salivating in anticipation of the results of the Virginia Waters byelection.  Perhaps, as its ‘bellwether’ history suggests, the outcome will confirm the winner of the next general election.  Of course, a multitude of signals are sought.  In particular, the Government wants to know if its free-falling popular support has been arrested with Dunderdale's banishment. 

A ‘bellwether’ riding is a term used to denote a single electoral district or region which reflects, with consistency, a larger political trend.  The District of Virginia Waters qualifies; but don’t bet your last dime on the accuracy of this gauge.

Province-wide Polls suggest the Liberals are the Party with momentum; the Tories and the NDP have crashed.  
Still, the outcome of the byelection is not a forgone conclusion.    
In 2011, Premier Dunderdale took 60% of the vote against 30% for the NDP and a mere 10% for the Liberals.  Given the corrosive political environment of the past three years, no one expects the Tories to replicate recent victories. 

In the elections of 2003 and 2007 the Tories took 58% and 73% of the vote respectively.  That Dunderdale’s vote was reduced to 60%, in 2011, was indicative of the growing NDP strength in that middle-class riding. 

Three successive wins suggest the district now contains a large “core” Tory vote.  To put it another way, a ten year pattern of partisan consistency may, in fact, have disqualified the Riding as a source of serious ‘bellwether’ interpretation. 

Its it possible three years of nagging acrimony has had a corrosive effect?  Virginia Waters surely has been in the eye of this caustic storm.   

All three Parties in the byelection are represented by experienced and respected players. Danny Breen, Sheila O’Leary and Cathy Bennett carry less baggage, on a personal level, than that which their respective Parties have saddled them. 

NDP Sheilagh O’Leary hopes to build on the Party’s 2011 credible showing.  But her Party is simply not the political force it was even a few months ago. 

Cathy Bennett, like O’Leary, has come through a recent contest which serves to enhance her electoral strength. 

Her challenge, to turn the Liberal Party’s meagre 10% share in 2011 into a win, is a monumental task.  Bennett faces Dwight Ball’s questionable strategy of letting the Tories fall on their sword rather than capitalize on the legitimacy and policy flexibility afforded him by his Leadership victory.  If she wins, Bennett might just become the ball (sic) of energy the Liberal Party needs to propel it through the next election.

Danny Breen has earned a kind of respect, in municipal politics; but it is less than clear he is ready for the big leagues.  Nevertheless, the baggage of the Tories’ fall from grace, and Dunderdale’s forced exit, finds him in the position of pivot.  A discredited Government expects him to demonstrate its fortunes are on the turn.   If he fails the voters might get ready for a ‘damn the torpedoes’ strategy next (though it might be hard to distinguish from the approach taken in the recent deficit Budget).

When you see Danny Williams hoofing it on the streets of Virginia Waters, in support of Breen, it’s not that the odor of victory has been detected; it’s just that the stakes are so high for him personally; like the Emperor in Hans Christian Anderson’s Fairy Tale, Williams feels he must risk being seen without clothes. 

While the Government badly needs to demonstrate that support, which for so long has been at crippling levels, is on the rise Dwight Ball must prove that the Liberal juggernaut is still alive, that it is irreversibly on the way to crushing the Tories in the next general election.  The NDP will be content to prove it is not dead.

Where do we look for guidance as to the outcome? 

The likelihood of the Liberals going all the way over the top from the low figure of just 10% seems dim; yet the Carbonear-Harbour Grace byelection confirms turnover is not impossible.

In 2011, Jerome Kennedy won 76.3% of the votes cast against only 14.8% for the Liberals and 8.5% for the NDP.  When Kennedy resigned, two years later, municipal politician Liberal Sam Slade, won the Seat with just over 50% of the votes.

Look out, when the voters are pissed!

The Virginia Waters campaign, reflecting the Riding’s demography, has been a respectably middle-class affair; the Candidates have been very nice to each other.   

Sam Slade took the gloves off.  The voters of Carbonear-Harbour Grace weren’t bored. They were constantly reminded that an election was on, that the stakes were high.   

In Virginia Waters, neither Candidate has adequately defined the other’s failures nor those of the Parties; it’s as if the mountains of unploughed snow are a welcomed shield denying each other (and the voters) an uncomfortable encounter.   

That is not the way to gain uncertain ground.

Is there a clue within the results of the most recent CRA Poll?  A March 6th report placed overall support for the Tories at 33% against 53% for the Liberals, and 13% for the NDP.

Those standings are a far cry from the numbers that bolstered the Dunderdale Government’s 2011 bid which also dates Virginia Waters’ last trip to the Polls. They paint a picture of odious leadership and unwise public policy.

Does Virginia Waters’ recent history of voting Tory three times, successively, constitute a partisan and impenetrable wall protecting the P.C.'s?  Or, is the public’s faith in this Government breached beyond repair?

Will Cathy Bennett replicate Sam Slade’s minor miracle in Carbonear-Harbour Grace?  

Can Sheilagh O’Leary advance the NDP in spite of itself?

Is Virginia Waters ‘bellwether’ and is the signal one of change? 

Wednesday night can’t come soon enough.