Promotions, resignations, murder trials: Uncontrollable events in N.L. politics

Politicians hate events that are not staged — genuine happenings that are beyond anybody's control.
All three parties in Newfoundland and Labrador face leadership challenges and pressure from forces that may be outside their control. (CBC)

Politicians hate events.

Not the events they stage, but genuine happenings that are beyond anybody's control.

Take, for example, Steve Kent's decision to leave provincial politics for a (much!) better-paying job at the city of Mount Pearl. It is the reason for NDP leader Earle McCurdy's sudden desire to spend more time with his family.

McCurdy had no choice: He lives in Kent's district of Mount Pearl North and yet cannot win a byelection there. His choice was to run — and lose — or not to run and face humiliating ridicule until the end of his days. Exit stage left.

With McCurdy soon to vanish, it may be worth looking at the major leadership problems each party faces.

For the NDP, future success depends on attracting younger members and volunteers.

The Orange Wave has given way to a sea of grey. McCurdy, an able union leader, possessed the same handicap as his predecessor, Lorraine Michael: an inability to re-energize and attract youth to the party.

Gerry Rogers announced her intention to seek the NDP leadership immediately after Earle McCurdy revealed his plans to leave. (CBC)

St. John's Centre MHA Gerry Rogers immediately jumped into the race and, at the age of 61, she is a political tween who might be able to attract some young people back. But there is also risk.

"Having a sitting MHA announcing that she is going to run likely limits the field of candidates," said Memorial University political science professor, Kelly Blidook. "It makes it hard to see what, if any excitement or change they'll get from a leadership contest."

PCs tainted by Muskrat Falls

What about excitement for the provincial Tories?

So far, the only person to express genuine interest in that leadership job is class-action lawyer Ches Crosbie. With Steve Kent leaving to become a mere municipal bureaucrat (at $195,000 a year), the future of the party becomes more chaotic.

While Paul Davis plays hard to get, and perhaps gets excited by opinion polls telling him he is a more popular leader than Dwight Ball, Conservative sources say Davis is out.

Steve Kent's decision to leave politics for a lucrative job with the city of Mount Pearl leaves the PC leadership race with a new and uncertain dynamic. (CBC)

Whoever leads the PCs will desperately need to find some kind of political cleanser to remove the odious stench of Muskrat Falls. Come election 2019, Tory opponents will hammer them with, 'Do you really want to re-elect the people who crippled this province's finances for decades to come?'

Ball a liability?

As for the governing Liberals, there is really only one question: Will Dwight Ball be the leader in 2019?

Several Liberal MHAs, who don't want to be named, say there is much grumbling within caucus.  Summer in their districts was less sunny when they spoke with constituents.

The gist is, "The party is strong, the leader is weak, we can't win with Dwight."

Dwight Ball and his caucus have been travelling the province over the summer, but sources say Liberal MHAs are being told Ball could be a liability. (Twitter/DwightBallMHA)

The whisper campaign of potential contenders intensified over the summer.

Businessman Paul Antle, still seething over his failure to defeat Lorraine Michael in St. John's East-Quidi Vidi, is one name that makes the rounds. He does have the advantage of not being associated with the current crowd.

Another businessman, Dean MacDonald, is said to have eighth-floor fever. However, party loyalists remember his political striptease last time around when he got down to his undies then got dressed again and decided he wasn't ready for the full political monty. They blame MacDonald for helping Ball land the top job.

Justice Minister Andrew Parsons is considering his options and, from the outside, there is always the chance of someone genuinely new, perhaps Dr. Andrew Furey of Broken Earth fame.

But who strikes first?

There's no such thing as a bloodless coup.

Leaders don't leave until they feel that tipping point where the caucus is no longer fully behind them and cabinet ministers and backroom strategists start uttering the noble (and lethal) phrase: "For the good of the party."

"Dwight Ball seems oblivious to criticism," said MUN political scientist Stephen Tomblin. "Unless that changes and economic conditions do not improve then I suspect his party will pressure him more and more."

Upcoming trial 

Perhaps Ball might be able to hang on.

But remember those events beyond the control of politicians?

On Nov. 6 the murder trial of Brandon Phillips will begin in a St. John's courtroom. He is charged with the shooting death of Larry Wellman at the Captain's Quarters hotel in October 2015.

Phillips's girlfriend at the time was the Premier's daughter, Jade Ball. Prior to his arrest, Phillips's whereabouts were unknown for several days.

Dwight Ball told the CBC at the time that this was a "family issue".

Depending on the details that emerge during the murder trial, it's possible that the premier — like so many departing politicians — might decide that he needs to spend more time with his family.

About the Author

Anthony Germain

CBC News

Anthony Germain cohosts Here & Now in Newfoundland and Labrador. He is a former host of the St. John's Morning Show and CBC Radio's The House, and is CBC's former correspondent in China.