Wish­ful think­ing?

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

be home.

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.

Danette Dooley photo

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.

Com­pass file photo by Bill Bow­man

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.

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