Holding on to power
Here’s Premier Paul Davis, as quoted last week by The Telegram, talking about the need to carry on governing despite a string of byelection defeats for the Progressive Conservatives.
“I’m never convinced that a byelection is reflective of what the people of the province are looking for in totality. We still have a solid majority in the House. We still have a responsibility to govern. We’re doing that.”
Indeed, the governing PCs still have a responsibility to govern. And maybe a particular byelection result does not tell a full story. But what about seven byelections? One of those seven byelection victories was not altogether surprising. The Cartwright - L’Anse au Clair district has remained Liberal for decades, even when the party was swept aside by Danny Williams’ big victory in the 2003 general election.
But in every other case, including last week’s byelections, the Liberals picked up seats previously held by former high-profile cabinet ministers or, in two cases, premiers. In previous election, those districts were easy wins for the PCs.
As far as creating a pattern goes, those results are nothing to sneeze at.
Following previous byelection defeats, the PCs have suggested there were communication issues impacting government’s ability to get the right messages out to the public. In Heart’s Content last week, Education Minister Susan Sullivan said the party must look at why it’s losing these byelections.
Paul Davis has a pretty thankless task ahead of him. Barring some sort of dramatic collapse by the Liberals, he is bound to lose the next election. Davis himself has made some decisions during his short time in office that have not sat well with the public — appointing the unelected Judy Manning to the justice minister post comes to mind.
However, his tone in dealing with issues publicly has been commendable. There have been moments during Question Period and media scrums where Davis’ answers were seemingly frank and straightforward. Kathy Dunderdale could have used some of that in her stint as premier.
But suggesting the byelection results do not amount to a whole lot when looking at the bigger picture seems a tad naïve. The party still has a solid majority in the house, yes. It legally has a responsibility to govern. However, every indicator suggests the vast majority of residents in Newfoundland and Labrador would like to see another party tasked with that responsibility.
A general election is not supposed to happen until next fall. It will be interesting to see how sitting MHAs within the PC caucus react to the latest byelection results in Humber East and Trinity-Bay de Verde.
If more decide they want to jump ship before that general election, one has to ask whether it’s worth holding more byelections instead of letting everyone go to the polls to get the inevitable over with.