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Monday 15 September 2014


Inside the P.C. Convention Hall, on Saturday, Progressive Conservatives did their very best to display the intense excitement for which delegated leadership conventions enjoy a special distinction.  As the meeting headed into the second ballot Tories must have felt that, finally, the acrimony of the Dunderdale leadership and the Frank Coleman fiasco had passed into history.

But when the second ballot was counted and a one vote lead by Paul Davis still did not afford him victory, Tories must surely have felt under a curse.  Luckily, the third ballot confirmed what the second intended.  An incorrect and untimely interpretation of a ‘majority’ came close to splitting a Party already demoralized. 

Mr. Davis deserves our congratulations; his two competitors, John Ottenheimer and Steve Kent, can be proud of their participation in an important endeavor; after all, political parties are the foundation of our democratic system. Even when the process delivers a leader of questionable choice, but functions without self-interested interference, we are at least left with the confidence the system is still viable.

Whether Paul Davis is also Danny’s man will eventually become clear.

Inside the Convention Hall, the process unfolding certainly seemed to matter to the people there. Outside, however, the air appeared bereft of any such gravitas.

That may be because it is tough to take seriously any of the contenders, each having genuflected to Coleman just a few months earlier.

A lot is expected of leaders who aspire to be Premier.  Politics is a game in which victors are rewarded for their courage, ideas or specific personal achievements, especially their exemplary good judgement.  On this occasion few disagreed when, at the outset, a wit quickly dubbed them the “B Team”.

Mr. Davis has been afforded the opportunity to prove his doubters wrong.  

A battered Party has a new leader; but the Province does not have a new Premier, at least not yet. Davis has indicated he will not be sworn in for some weeks. Tom Marshall, expecting that the new Premier might be anxious to take office, has already said good bye to his staff, to the media and to the public.  Does Davis not care that Tom Marshall had wanted out from the very day he was sworn in?

Davis is not coming out of the gate running. 

For that reason he risks being portrayed as the dog that caught the bus. Having won the mantle, he may wonder, like the rest of us, what he will do with it. 

With certainty, he will be accused of flogging the intent of Section 3.1 of the House of Assembly Act which obligates the government to an election within one year of his investiture.  Davis may well be attempting to procure as much time and flexibility as he can muster to turn a reluctant electorate.   

But, having caught the bus, should we have any expectations of him?

Davis has limited experience.  He entered the Constabulary, as a Constable, and retired holding no promotion.

He attained, as a Minister, no recognition as a policy wonk.  His pronouncements, during the leadership contest, did little to improve his standing.

Davis spoke of change in his Speech to the delegates on Saturday morning, assuring them he had a winning formula with which to reverse an ebb tide. But his rhetoric failed to offer an articulation of whether he understood the nature of voters’ dissatisfaction or of the skills he possessed to assuage their surliness.

If one tries to characterise the policy framework of all three contenders it might be described in this way: whatever it is you want, we’ll give you even more of the same.  

That is hardly a winning formula for a Party 24% in the Polls in a Province experiencing the best economy in its history.
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Davis will have to do more than express good intentions or to offer consultation.

Of course, he will need to connect with ordinary people but he must do better than suggest uncontrolled spending equates with good governance. He, like the other two contenders, believes the Government is doing all the right things; it is just their communications that has failed.  That is a wrong assessment.

The Province needs fundamental change; but it don’t so much need more policies as better ones.  It could use less smugness or tones of righteousness, too. Such attitudes find no equivalence with even the worst policies. Indeed, some as simple as paved roads or those harder to achieve, like better health care, all have their place. But, no honest citizen will submit to unbridled arrogance of the kind for which recent Administrations have demonstrated a remarkable capacity.  

Even if the public supports an unwise megaproject, like Muskrat Falls, that is not the same as submission to the condescension of senior people at Nalcor.  No one respects politicians or public servants who are afraid of scrutiny, who have engaged in a deception, or who live by the mantra: we know what is best for you.   

Nalcor is another place that needs leadership change. 

All things taken together, the Party's status in the Polls is not accidental. 

Then, too, policies are only one part of a complex set of public expectations.  No one has a monopoly on ideas.  The public has come to the conclusion the Liberals may have a few.

Davis is not a charismatic figure though he hopes to connect with a society that is very leader-centric.  In that department he will face little competition from Dwight Ball, even if the Liberal leader is far more popular. Of course, boredom is not the issue keeping people awake.

Davis is the one with the mantle to lose.  Coming off a lacklustre leadership race, he must hope that, merely by the act of winning, he has garnered some goodwill.

Three impending byelections could quickly end this doubtful new beginning.  If he believes he has the right stuff he may wish to strut it soon.

Finally, Mr. Davis should know this: even the critics want him to succeed.  The issues they raise are not about him or them.  They are about creating better Government and strengthening our institutions. They are about reducing the enormous risk to which the Government has exposed our economy and society. 

I don't think the public has big expectations of Mr. Davis but we would sure like to be surprised.

Unfortunately, that sure sounds just a bit too much like serendipity.