Po­lit­i­cal drama brew­ing?

In­ter­est­ing race shap­ing up in Port de Grave district

The Compass - - FRONT PAGE - BY TERRYROBERTS

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.

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