A win for the voters
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.