A win for the vot­ers

The Compass - - OPINION - Terry Roberts

Vet­er­ans Me­mo­rial High­way has been trans­formed into a po­lit­i­cal park­way in re­cent days, with many of the prov­ince's most in­flu­en­tial politi­cians mak­ing their way to the dis­trict of Car­bon­ear-Har­bour Grace.

In ad­di­tion to the pre­mier, Kathy Dun­derdale, and some of those vy­ing to be­come the next leader of the pro­vin­cial Lib­eral party, res­i­dents have also likely caught glimpses of cab­i­net min­is­ters, high pro­file MHAs, and NDP leader Lor­raine Michael.

It's not hard to guess that some­thing very im­por­tant is at stake — namely a much-cov­eted seat in the House of As­sem­bly. Cur­rently, the gov­ern­ing Pro­gres­sive Con­ser­va­tives hold a firm ma­jor­ity, with 35 of the 48 avail­able seats. The Lib­er­als have seven, the NDP have been re­duced to three, and two MHAs — Dale Kirby and Christo­pher Mitchelmore — sit as in­de­pen­dents.

Car­bon­ear-Har­bour Grace has been with­out an MHA since Jerome Kennedy, a very prom­i­nent — and ob­vi­ously dis­grun­tled — mem­ber of the gov­ern­ing PC party, un­ex­pect­edly re­signed from pol­i­tics in early Oc­to­ber. Kennedy was a full two years shy of com­plet­ing his four-year man­date, which was won by one of the widest mar­gins — some 75 per cent-plus of the bal­lots, or 3,993 of 5,258 votes cast — of any can­di­date in the 2011 pro­vin­cial elec­tion.

His de­par­ture is what set in mo­tion this par­ti­san feed­ing frenzy, with vot­ers in the re­gion squarely in the sights of all three ma­jor po­lit­i­cal par­ties.

Based on the out­come of the 2011 vote, a ca­sual ob­server might sur­mise that Kennedy's prospec­tive suc­ces­sor — in this case his for­mer ex­ec­u­tive and con­stituency as­sis­tant, Jack Har­ring­ton — might have some pretty com­fort­able coat tails on which to sashay into the House. And Har­ring­ton has some pretty im­pres­sive achieve­ments on which to cam­paign, in­clud­ing a new long-term care fa­cil­ity and ele­men­tary school in Car­bon­ear, and pro­posed new sta­dium and ad­dic­tions cen­tre for Har­bour Grace. Very few dis­tricts in the prov­ince can crow about such a mind-blow­ing list of gov­ern­ment in­vest­ments.

So is it over be­fore it be­gins? Can we anoint Har­ring­ton as the next great po­lit­i­cal heavy­weight from this re­gion? One who will pull up a chair next to the pre­mier and take on some very im­por­tant roles as the PCs for­mu­late a bat­tle plan for the 2015 pro­vin­cial elec­tion?

Not so fast. Things have changed since 2011, on many fronts.

There's no deny­ing that Har­ring­ton is an ac­com­plished and well-re­spected per­son, hav­ing worked a long ca­reer as a teacher, school psy­chol­o­gist and pro­gram spe­cial­ist. His cre­den­tials, from an ed­u­ca­tional, pro­fes­sional and com­mu­nity stand­point, are out­stand­ing.

But will it be enough? Will vot­ers, ticked at Kennedy for leav­ing early, take out their frus­tra­tions on Har­ring­ton?

Un­like 2011, the Lib­er­als — with Car­bon­ear mayor Sam Slade as the can­di­date — are a real fac­tor in this race. Slade is no slouch in the po­lit­i­cal arena, and has con­tin­u­ally proved his met­tle on Car­bon­ear’s mu­nic­i­pal scene over the past two decades. Most re­cently, he won a very con­vinc­ing mayoral race against a chal­lenger, for­mer deputy mayor Ches Ash, who played very high pro­file lead­er­ship role on the pre­vi­ous coun­cil. What's his se­cret? Slade's ap­proach to pol­i­tics is one that strikes to the very grass­roots of a com­mu­nity, and his slo­gan — putting peo­ple first — says it all. His folksy, down-to-earth style puts peo­ple at ease, giv­ing res­i­dents a feel­ing that they are con­nect­ing on a level play­ing field. And his very tra­di­tional way of earn­ing a liveli­hood — from the sea — fur­ther con­nects him with “the plebs,” a term once used in an­cient times to de­scribe the or­di­nary peo­ple of Rome.

Slade has another fac­tor work­ing in his favour, that be­ing the ris­ing tide of pop­u­lar­ity for the Lib­er­als fol­low­ing a decade of dark­ness. And if you look at his­toric vot­ing pat­terns, res­i­dents of Car­bon­ear-Har­bour Grace have had no com­punc­tion about sup­port­ing the Lib­er­als. Re­mem­ber Ge­orge Sweeney? Art Reid?

So de­spite the late ar­rival of an NDP can­di­date, Fresh­wa­ter’s Char­lene Sud­brink, this is, in fact, a two-per­son race, with an un­cer­tain out­come. In­deed, that’s al­ways bet­ter than a cake­walk, and is an un­de­ni­able pos­i­tive for the ones who re­ally mat­ter — the voter.

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