Nfld. & Labrador·Weekend Briefing

Here's the juggernaut Ches Crosbie will have to fight like hell to overcome

The PCs won all the byelections after the last general election, but they now face a wall formed by more than two dozen Liberal incumbents, writes John Gushue.

Every single member of the Liberal caucus is running again

Ches Crosbie rallied supporters Wednesday night as he launched his campaign. (CBC)

While never so foolish as to predict the outcome of the election, I feel comfortable stating this: Tory Leader Ches Crosbie has one massive problem to solve if he wants to turn Newfoundland and Labrador blue next month.

It's not a problem of his own making.

It's also not a problem that will be easy to fix.

It's the problem of incumbency — and not his, but rather the party he wants to unseat.

Let me explain.

Of the slate of 40 candidates that the governing Liberals will have going into the election, 27 are sitting members of the House of Assembly.

Twenty-seven.

Put another way: every single member of the Liberal caucus is running again. The works. Only one of them (Betty Parsley, in Harbour Main) faced a nomination challenge along the way.

No guarantee of success, but quite the weapon

Before we look at the Liberals' advantage, let's not forget that the Tories are going into the campaign with some key strengths.

Chief among them is the momentum that comes from winning all three byelections held since the last general election. The Tories kept seats held by Paul Davis and Steve Kent, and — significantly — Crosbie himself picked off the St. John's seat that former Liberal finance minister Cathy Bennett had held.

Ches Crosbie greets his father, PC legend John Crosbie, after winning September's byelection in Windsor Lake. (CBC)

In other words, the Tories can turn seats.

The issue: they have to turn 13 of them (and win all that they hold) to form a majority government.

Even people who are not fans of Dwight Ball will acknowledge that the Liberals are going into this election from a position of strength. Incumbency is a potent force in politics. It hardly guarantees success, but it does give momentum and weight to a party … and it can sap the resources of parties aiming to overturn the status quo.

In this case, the fact that no Liberal MHAs are stepping away from the political fight tells us something about the mood inside the party. Namely, there's a confidence in the air. They expect to win.

The risk of being arrogant

Now, that runs the risk of cockiness and arrogance — something the PCs, the NDP and the upstart NL Alliance can use to their advantage.

It's natural for a party that's just finishing its first term back in government to have a solid cadre of returning candidates.

Liberal Leader Dwight Ball officially launched his campaign in St. John's on Wednesday night. (CBC)

But it's even more remarkable that there hasn't been turnover. With most elections, you'll hear from some MHAs — the ones who've been around the block — to declare that it's time to retire, or perhaps lean on that old euphemism of spending more time with family. (Sometimes that's true, by the way, but it's often a cloak for "I don't want to run and lose.")

Indeed, two of the veteran MHAs who did step down before the election was called were both Tories. Keith Hutchings, the former fisheries minister, has represented the PC stronghold of Ferryland since a 2007 byelection. Tracey Perry is retiring after representing Fortune Bay-Cape La Hune since the 2007 election.

Everyone in politics knows incumbency in politics can be a mighty factor. Satisfaction with Liberal performance has not been consistently strong in public opinion polling over the last four years, but by the same token, there are few signs of an anti-incumbent feeling in the air.

Liberals were faster out of the gate

In our office, we've been sharing notes about candidates in a spreadsheet. Even before the Liberals filled all their slots on Wednesday, they were way ahead of the competing parties. The PCs had notable gaps in their slate, including several districts held by cabinet ministers.

The NDP has had far more empty slots than filled ones. This speaks to the uphill struggle the party has, coming after a tumultuous start to the year with leader Gerry Rogers unexpectedly stepping down, Alison Coffin taking over the reins, and some clear signs of infighting with St. John's Deputy Mayor Sheilagh O'Leary squeezed out in Lorraine Michael's old district of St. John's East-Quidi Vidi.

The four party leaders are, from left, Ball, Crosbie, New Democrat Alison Coffin and NL Alliance's Graydon Pelley. (CBC)

When it became clear that Ball was heading to the electorate, the NDP had a handful — four, to be exact — candidates nominated and in place. (Coffin herself was not yet officially nominated at that point.)

Then there's the NL Alliance, which cleared hurdles to become a fully fledged political party in time for the vote. Leader Graydon Pelley, who ran against Ball for the PCs in Humber-Gros Morne in 2015, is running this time in the St. John's district of Mount Scio.

It'll be interesting to see how much organizational strength that Pelley, a former PC president, takes from the Crosbie camp … not to mention the other parties.

Crosbie, of all the opposition leaders, will be the one that most voters will watch. That's natural; the Tories, after all, were in power four years ago.

But amid everything the Tory campaign has to deal with — recruiting candidates, raising money, rounding up volunteers — a killer headache for the blue team is the red side's massive advantage of incumbency.

For all your weekend reading needs

It's a long weekend. Enjoy a moment to catch your breath … and some to read.

Here are some recent stories we've published that you might enjoy:

The francophone community radio station Rafale FM hasn't produced local programming in Labrador City since 2015, but the station has still been collecting ad revenue.

Luke Quinton and his family have relocated from Austin, Texas, to St. John's. (Luke Quinton)

You can go home again … even if you lived in one of the coolest cities in the States. (Luke Quinton's POV was one of our most-read and most-shared articles this week.)

A couple from Holyrood thought they were incredibly lucky at a resort casino, until they realized they had fallen prey to a popular scam aimed at tourists.

Seagulls are skeets.

Insurance costs mean another kind of road rage for many consumers; check out Lindsay Bird's feature on why fixing it is so hard.

This week's budget has no new taxes or fees, but it does have things that can affect your household's bottom line.

Doctors are seeing unnecessary appointments because income support clients need medical appointments in order to meet the qualifications for Metrobus passes.

A leaked letter shows conflicts in the women's movement months before Jenny Wright resigned as executive director of the St. John's Status of Women Council.

CBD, or cannabidiol, is widely sought for pain relief … but not by many doctors, who are still waiting for clinical evidence.

Quote of the week

Finance Minister Tom Obsorne broke down details of this year's budget Tuesday; none of the details have yet been debated or approved. (Fred Hutton/CBC)

"I would have preferred to have seen this chop away at our deficit next year, and the year after, and to help us with surpluses every year. In fact, I argued with financial officials in the department, but this is the system we use, it's accrual accounting. It is what it is."

— Finance Minister Tom Osborne, telling reporters on Budget Day he really, really didn't want to have a $1.9-billion surplus on the books because of the refreshed Atlantic Accord. Almost all of the money will show up over the coming decades.

And now, a moment of calm

When things get hectic, find some calm. The above photo of Newtown, from frequent contributor Penney Turner, will do the trick.

You can find it and more beautiful things in our latest audience photo gallery.

Now they want trouble, my friend

The Mighty Morphin' Northern Rangers are a bit like the other crew from '90s TV .. but with beer boxes.

It's the latest comedy video served up by the Not Quite gang. (See more of their stuff, and more, over at this playlist on our YouTube channel.)

Tis it for this week. Enjoy your weekend.

Incidentally, it looks like the politicians are going to be laying a bit low over the Easter weekend, and will be in full roar on Tuesday. 

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador 

About the Author

John Gushue

CBC News

John Gushue is the digital senior producer with CBC News in St. John's.

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