All eyes on Crosbie now
When you’ve been involved in the Fourth Estate racket as long as I have — it was 46 years ago this month that I lost my journalistic virginity on a beatup R.C. Allen typewriter in a noisy, smoky Evening Telegram newsroom — it only stands to reason that an eclectic list of politicians would find itself occupying a corner in that bag of neurons I very generously call a memory bank.
Such an inventory includes the many men (and the two women, Lynn Verge and Yvonne Jones) who’ve performed as leader of Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition (a typically grandiose title placed in our psyche by the Brits), a group that now embraces Ches Crosbie, his inclusion formalized by that tight victory on Sept. 20 in the Windsor Lake byelection.
There have been opposition leaders I’ve known or, at the very least, have observed, who’ve eventually found themselves, for one reason or another, in the dustbin of Newfoundland political history, asterisks in a political science course — Len Stirling and Ed Byrne, to name just a couple.
But I’ve also watched a number of individuals in that collection who’ve parlayed their gigs as the chief challenger of the government of the day into laudable legacies or successful careers outside politics, or have actually managed to occupy the premier’s chair.
Sometimes it was political acumen (astute manipulation of the electorate, in other words), or a lack thereof that proved to be the critical factor in the success or failure of various opposition leaders, but, more often than not, it was simply the fickle nature of Newfoundland and Labrador voters, blind adherents to the simplistic time-for-a-change philosophy.
So how will Ches Crosbie stack up? Will there eventually be a trip to the government offices or will there be, instead, a spot in the political dumpster for the class action mooseman-turned-politician?
Well, to use that well-worn cliché of lazy punditry: only time will tell, although the first report card, to be issued by province-wide Newfoundland voters, won’t be that far into Crosbie’s tenure; next year’s election will be upon Crosbie (and upon us) before his legislative seat is barely warm.
But one conclusion we can safely draw about Crosbie’s victory in Windsor Lake: he’ll now have an opportunity to earn his stripes, to strut his stuff, to shake his antlers, to show the public if he’s a flash in the pan or someone it might wish to engage as its chief governor for a while. It is in the House of Assembly, after all, with its daily blanket news coverage, where Crosbie will find himself under the microscope, and before the cameras and microphones, and in The Telegram’s pages, and scrutinized closely.
And, as I and others have noted, he’ll have the Muskrat Falls albatross around his neck each and every time he’s on his feet to accuse the government of incompetence.
As Hansard might record: The Honourable the Leader of the Opposition: “Mr. Speaker, I’d like to ask the Honourable the Premier about the boondoggle of Muskrat Falls and whether his government...”
The Honourable the Premier (interrupting): “Mr. Speaker, I would suggest the Leader of the Opposition give his Tory colleagues, Mr. Williams or Ms. Dunderdale a call, take them out for a double-double and a yack if he’s interested in the mess that is Muskrat Falls, or, as well, in obtaining background on the economic mess we on this side inherited from his predecessors.”
Yup. That can grow tiresome. But nobody has ever accused Newfoundland politicians of being chock-full of originality.
And there’s also the issue of Crosbie’s perceived lack of dynamism (to put it as kindly as I can), a firebrand Brian Peckford or Danny Williams he is not; but perhaps Newfoundland is sick of watching the charismatic card being played, and is more interested (if you believe in miracles, that is) in substance and solidity of thought and policy (whether Crosbie fits that bill will be part of the before-mentioned onlytime-will-tell adjudication).
On another note here in the aftermath of the Windsor Lake byelection: it’s been quite a while since a Crosbie took a spot in an elected chamber, the sight of a decidedly aged John Crosbie warmly congratulating his son last week a reflection of just how quickly time passes.
Crosbie Sr. ran the province in the early and mid-’70s while his boss, Frank Moores, chased pheasant and women, but Crosbie never actually found himself in the premier’s chair — the one place he longed to plant his arse.
History has recorded, though, that Crosbie came within a few bonjours, or, perhaps in his rarely sanitized case, within a few manger merdes (to plagiarize Trudeau Sr.) of becoming prime minister.
(Back in the day, we joked that Crosbie’s ascension to that particular throne would have enabled reporters here to localize every single story out of Ottawa: “Prime Minister John Crosbie, a Newfoundlander, announced today...”)
But returning to the offspring: Crosbie Jr. has also given evidence that it is never too late to alter course in life, having been elected to House of Assembly in the same year in which he was eligible for a social security cheque.
Perhaps such status might come in handy during that staple of electioneering, the token photo-op in senior citizen homes.
You’re probably ahead of me here: only time will tell.