A tree stands alone

The Compass - - EDITORIAL OPINION -

One by one, all the ex­pected can­di­dates for the lead­er­ship of the Pro­gres­sive Con­ser­va­tive Party stepped aside, mak­ing way for what ap­pears to be a cal­cu­lated move by the party to show a united front in sup­port of in­terim-Premier Kathy Dun­derdale.

It’s a sur­pris­ing turn of events and even more sur­pris­ing, in some re­spects, than the an­nounce­ment in Novem­ber that Danny Wil­liams would be leav­ing the premier’s of­fice.

No mat­ter how large the pro­file any given MHA may have had, it was al­ways Danny’s show at the House of Assemby. With his long shadow mak­ing an exit, there were sev­eral per­ceived can­di­dates to take over lead­er­ship of the party.

Dun­derdale ini­tially said she would not be look­ing to serve be­yond a lead­er­ship con­ven­tion, but af­ter her an­nounce­ment last week stat­ing she will run, the prov­ince’s first fe­male premier ap­pears to be a lone wolf.

Car­bon­ear-Har­bour Grace MHA Jerome Kennedy was con­sid­ered a log­i­cal suc­ces­sor to Wil­liams from the moment he an­nounced his in­ten­tions to run provin­cially. He was the min­is­ter in three of the most im­por­tant port­fo­lios - jus­tice, fi­nance, and health - and had a highly vis­i­ble pro­file on the pro­vin­cial scene.

How­ever, he was not al­ways shown in the most pos­i­tive light. The re­lo­ca­tion of the air am­bu­lance ser­vice in St. An­thony dis­played his com­bat­ive side, well oiled through his years as a St. John’s de­fence lawyer. Then there was his show­down with the New­found­land and Labrador Med­i­cal As­so­ci­a­tion, which was testy at the best of times be­fore a set­tle­ment was reached shortly af­ter Dun­derdale re­placed Wil­liams in the premier’s of­fice.

Kennedy cited the strains be­ing premier would place on his fam­ily in mak­ing his de­ci­sion not to run, as did Min­is­ter of Ed­u­ca­tion Darin King shortly there­after. Fi­nance min­is­ter Tom Mar­shall, an­other po­ten­tial can­di­date, was soon to fol­low in an­nounc­ing he would not run, and like­wise with Steve Kent, MHA for the Mount Pearl North district.

There was a bit of a domino ef­fect in play, with each an­nounce­ment book­ended by an en­dorse­ment of Dun­derdale’s can­di­dacy. Are there no lead­er­ship am­bi­tions within the PC cau­cus be­yond Dun­derdale? One can only spec­u­late on that mat­ter, but the lack of in­ter­est shown thus far is sur­pris­ing.

One likely rea­son for the lack of can­di­dates is the party’s de­sire to show a united front in the next pro­vin­cial elec­tion, sched­uled for this fall. A lead­er­ship con­ven­tion pit­ting min­is­ters against one an­other could cre­ate di­vi­sions within the party and leave an open­ing for the op­po­si­tion.

Cer­tainly, one only has to look back to the 2001 Lib­eral lead­er­ship con­ven­tion, where Roger Grimes squeaked by John Ef­ford, to see how a party can be hurt by such events. Ef­ford left pro­vin­cial pol­i­tics, as did fel­low lead­er­ship can­di­date Paul Dicks, who placed his sup­port be­hind Ef­ford for the sec­ond bal­lot. Wil­liams de­feated the Lib­er­als two years later, end­ing 14 years of Lib­eral-led govern­ment.

The Lib­er­als win­ning this year feels like a stretch, but the pro­vin­cial Con­ser­va­tives have shown them­selves to be a savy bunch over the last seven years. Let’s see how that plays out in what’s look­ing to be an his­toric elec­tion, likely to fea­ture a slate of three fe­male can­di­dates, all party lead­ers vy­ing for the premier’s chair.

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