Butler to ride off into the political sunset
Perhaps it’s wishful thinking on the part of this prominent Liberal politician. But he doesn’t think Danny Williams is going to be around much longer after the next election. As for the Grits, he doesn’t see his own party retake the reins of government before 2015. He won’t be around for that as he plans to retire from politics before the next trip to the polls.
Sitting in the backyard of his Shearstown home surrounded by trees, Roland Butler talks casually about his political life and his Placentia Bay roots.
Just metres away, Rio, the family horse pokes his head through a barn stall, looking as if he too, is interested in the races Butler has won and lost over the years.
Butler has been the MHA for the District of Port de Grave for almost a decade.
What most people don’t realize he says is that the 2001 byelection wasn’t the first time he ventured into the political ring.
Butler first sought the Liberal nomination way back in 1972. He placed seventh in a field of eight.
By the time he lost his first Liberal nomination bid almost 40 years ago, Butler had already become involved in the Port de Grave District Liberal Association, going on to serve as president for a stint in the 1980s and more recently from 1994-2001.
But his true grooming for a future in politics began in 1989 when he was offered the job of executive assistant to then area MHA John Efford.
The MHA traded in his construction hat and steel-toed boots for more formal office attire.
He worked for Efford right up to the 2001 Liberal Leadership convention.
In a fierce and controversial race, Roger Grimes edged out Efford by a mere handful of votes and took over not only as party leader but also as premier.
Shortly after the bitter battle and major upheaval within the party, Grimes offered Butler a job as executive assistant to MHA Tom Lush.
Butler accepted the position, knowing, when a by-election was called, he’d be one of the first people out of the gates.
He won the 2001 by-election over Tory candidate Ed Neil, albeit by less than 100 votes).
“ I was the only one in a caucus of 34 who’d worked with Mr. Efford. But each and every one of them came onside and treated me fairly, even though I was on the other side during the leadership race.”
After winning the by-election by such a slim margin, Butler knew he had work to do to show his constituents he was the man for the job.
“ I knocked on every door in the district leading up to the ( 2003) provincial general election. I won by 1,600 and some odd votes.”
Following that election, Danny Williams took over as premier.
Butler knew he’d have his work cut out for him again when the time came around to go to the polls in 2007.
By that time, Williams’ popularity was stronger than Wreckhouse winds.
Despite Wi l liams and his Tories’ landslide victory, Butler managed to hold onto his seat, this time outlasting PC candidate and Bay Roberts Mayor Glenn Littlejohn by another slim margin. That trip to the polls saw the PC party almost wiping out its opposition, taking 44 of the 48 seats. Port de Grave was among only three seats that remained Liberal red, while NDP Leader Lorraine Michael held Signal Hill-Quida Vida.
Butler knew that race would be his last. Earlier this year he made it known during a district party function he would not be seeking re-election in the 2011 general election.
Loyal and trustworthy
When contacted by phone about Butler’s performance as a politician, John Efford said he saw something in Butler long before he offered him a job.
“ I was impressed with his people skills and his ability to organize. And when I got to work with him I had total confidence in him to do his work and I could trust him.”
Efford said being a minister with the provincial government left little time for him to meet one-on-one with the people in his district.
He knew, however, that Butler, as his executive assistant, was well able to do that on his behalf.
“ He did that for me and he did it very admirably. I’m totally happy for how he’s done in politics. He deserves everything he’s got.”
Questions and answers
We asked Butler some questions about his life we thought would be of interest to Compass readers.
Here’s how he responded. What drew you to politics? My father was always interested in politics. When there was an election coming up, he would go to the shops and get a few clean brown paper bags. He’d tear them up and he’d have a piece of paper for each district. He’d keep the results as they were coming in over the radio. That’s when I began asking Dad what politics was all about.
What was your best day as a politician?
The first day that I won the (2001) by-election. To know there were some 3,000 plus people in a district who felt you did a job good enough when you were working with someone else, that they felt you could move on, on your own.
What do you like most about being a politician?
The major projects, water and sewer, paving, don’t mean a row of beans to me. It’s when aunt so and so or uncle somebody wants a paper filled out and you go to their house and sit down or they come here, that’s what’s fulfilling. What are your hobbies? I love reading. I read the Bible. And I love Newfoundland books, especially Earl Pilgrim. What are your favourite foods? I love the ordinary Newfoundland food and the old home cooked meals. My two favourite things are homemade hash and homemade soup. Where is your favourite get-a-way? In our motor home, anywhere in the province... we (Butler and his wife Maude) have been down through the States, but when you cross the gulf and you land on this side... it’s good to
What’s one thing people don’t know about you?
I don’t know if many people really know where I came from... the type of life we lived on that island - Flat Island/Port Elizabeth - in Placentia Bay. We had no television. No lights. There was no running water. In the wintertime, you’d go to the well, bring the water and the next morning it would be so cold you’d have to put the buckets on the oven door to thaw so you could go back to the well and get more water. But people think if you’re an MHA you have always had a lot. I don’t think people really know how common I was.
Is there anything you would have liked to accomplish as an MHA that you haven’t been able to do?
One thing I’d love to see is a new primary school on Coley’s Point. It’s in the plans and I’m hoping to see it announced. If that’s done, that would certainly be it for me.
Do you think you could win another election?
Most definitely. It’s not that I could win an election it’s the team that we have. We haven’t had a nomination in the district since 1984 and the same team is still in place here.
Who should lead the Liberal party next?
I think there are a lot of people out there who want to lead the Liberal party but with the premier’s popularity, there are not many going to come out of the woodwork. I’ve got all the respect for Yvonne Jones. She took the party leadership on when times were rough and times were down. I give her full credit for that. She’s a very intelligent individual. I wouldn’t name anyone else that I’d want to see coming forward. Once the premier gives up, it will be a different thing.
When do you think the Liberals will return to power?
I’m doubtful that the premier will be around in the next election. He’s done a good job... but I think he wants out and I think if he had something put together on the Lower Churchill he wouldn’t hesitate... many people think he will run and will be there for only a short period of time. I’m predicting we are going to win 12-15 seats in the next election, whether the premier is there or not. I think they’ll (PCs) be in power for another election ( 2011), and I think the next time round (2015) we’ll form the government.
What advice would you give someone thinking about entering politics?
A lot of people look at politics as not a very rewarding profession and we probably brought that on ourselves. But, I’d say to anyone - get involved. It’s a wonderful profession to be in... I can tell you in the House of Assembly we have 48 people and I’ve got the greatest respect for each and every one of them. If you’re a down-toearth person who likes people, then politics is the place to be.
What are your plans for retirement?
I’d love to write a book about the ( 2001) Liberal Leadership Convention. I went through it right on the convention floor. I saw what happened... things that weren’t right... Hopefully, what happened at that convention, will never happen again.
SUNSET - Roland Butler is seen here in his garden with his horse, Rio. After deciding to retire from politics next fall, Butler plans to (figuratively speaking) ride off into the political sunset.
CLOSE CALL - After one of the hardest fought and closest political battles in the province in the last provincial general election, Glenn Littlejohn congratulates his worthy opponent, Roland Butler on his victory on election night in October 2007.