Political drama brewing?
Interesting race shaping up in Port de Grave district
The Oct. 11 provincial election is still more than seven months away, but there’s already plenty of manoeuvering and strategizing underway in the Port de Grave district, where supporters and possible contenders for both major parties are positioning themselves for what may be one of the most interesting races in the province.
Here’s what makes this district so intriguing. Incumbent Liberal MHA Roland Butler, a popular man in the district, announced many months ago that he will not seek re-election. A bevy of possible successors have been probing the district ever since, trying to determine their chances of winning a nomination.
Only one, however, has confirmed he will seek the Liberal nod. That is Port de Grave fisherman Ross Petten, who spoke openly with The Compass recently about his intentions.
And voters are still talking about the tight race in 2007, in which Butler defeated Bay Roberts Mayor and Progressive Conservative candidate Glenn Littlejohn by less than 300 votes. Port de Grave was one of only four districts not to elect a Progressive Conservative in a landslide victory for former premier Danny Williams and his party.
But Port de Grave has been a Liberal stronghold for several generations, and many observers believe that with Williams — one of this province’s most popular premiers — out of the scene, the district may once again return to its more traditional voting patterns and send another Liberal to the House of Assembly.
However, some say there’s also an undercurrent of discontent, and many feel the district has been neglected because it was not represented by an MHA on the government side for nearly a decade.
And to add yet another sub-plot to this unfolding political drama, there’s word that the Conservatives are not entirely sold on the idea of having Littlejohn carry the PC banner again this time around.
Sources say party supporters have been actively trying to recruit alternate candidates, and several high-profile names have been emerging. Butler said a cabinet minister in the Conservative government confirmed to him last year that Littlejohn was not their preferred candidate. Butler did not identify the source.
“ I can’t understand why they’re doing what they’re doing,” Butler said of the Conservatives.
To be clear, Butler and Littlejohn may be political opposites, but they are also good friends. In fact, Littlejohn was a guest speaker at a tribute to Butler last year. So there’s no reason for Butler to fabricate such a story.
They’re disappointed he didn’t win in Bay Roberts (during the 2007 election), I guess,” said Butler. “But maybe he’ll seek the nomination and win it, and they’ll have to put up with him.”
Butler also stated that PC party supporters have approached Philip Wood, the deputy mayor of Bay Roberts and a well-known Liberal. Wood confirmed this recently, but brushed aside the suggestion of a switch to the Tories, saying he will be supporting Petten’s bid for the nomination.
Littlejohn, who has been coy in recent months about whether he will take another shot at the seat, has been out of the province in recent days. He is an official with the provincial team that is competing at the Canada Winter Games in Halifax, and did not respond to an e-mail request for an interview.
The president of the provincial PC party, Carbonear lawyer John Babb, would only say “ my understanding is that there are a number of individuals interested in seeking the nomination of the PC party in that district.”
He added: “Our party generally would not be engaged in the recruitment of candidates.”
Babb is confident the Conservatives can do better in Port de Grave than it did in 2007.
“ We certainly have the right leader in Premier Kathy Dunderdale, and with the right candidate, organizational setup and support, we believe we could reasonably win that district.”
Petten, meanwhile, believes the fortunes of the Liberal party, which is going through one of the lowest points in its history, is about to turn around. With the departure of Williams, he said grassroots support for the Liberals is starting to pick up.
“ We may even form the government this year,” Petten suggested.
Petten runs a highly successful fishing enterprise, has made a lucrative living from the industry, and lives in one of the most prosperous small communities in the province. His four children are grown and have careers.
He could easily slacken the reins and coast into an early retirement. So why does he want to enter the political arena, which demands a great deal of sacrifice and commitment, and often puts extreme pressure on a politician’s personal life?
Petten is a high-energy person with his hands in many different pursuits, and believes he’s at a point in his life where he can take on and meet the challenges of being an MHA.
“I give 110 per cent to everything I do. I’ll be there day or night to deal with issues,” he said.
Fisherman Ross Petten has confirmed he will seek the Liberal nomination in the district of Port de Grave for this fall’s provincial general election.