Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Liberals win Humber Valley

Last night, after a real nail-biter, Liberal Dwight Ball defeated PC candidate Darryl Kelly by 12 votes. After seemingly endless weeks of real and shadow campaigning, it might be hard to discern what this all means.

Oddly, Paul Oram on VOCM this morning hit on a few truths without meaning to so it's worth reviewing his speaking points.

He said that there was no message to government in this by election loss and in that he's partially right. Prior to this election, government pushed hard the idea that these by elections signified some mandate to negotiate with the enemies of the province (big oil, Ottawa etc.). That was a bar set by Premier Williams himself.

Oram went on to say that it was local politics, conditions and personalities that drove the results in Humber Valley.

In this remark he has stumbled on an old truth - all politics is local (See Tip O'Neil).

Strategically the PC campaign neglected to recognize that fact preferring to talk about provincial issues. Except for the last-minute parachute announcement on the Nicholsville Bridge issue, all four of these PC campaigns were "by election in a box" with each putting the premier and province first and the particular district in the backbenches.

It's worth noting that in the previous 3 by elections the turnout was abysmal to the point of embarrassing. In Humber Valley, turnout was a remarkable 62% and the government received far less than an overwhelming vote than was received in the other races.

So on both counts Paul Oram was right. There was no message that there is any great groundswell of public support for any provincial jihad against the anti-provincial infidels and perhaps there should have been a closer government focus on local bread-and-butter issues.

In other words - It's the economy, stupid.

At the same time, while there is little for the government to crow about in terms of great victories, the Liberal performance has been less that inspiring. If politics is local, then the opposition Liberals was only able to marshal local forces and credible candidates in only one of four seats and lost ground in Port au Port where ground was expected to be gained.

In a 1988 by election, Liberal Eric Gullage ran and defeated PC Ralph Tucker by 200 votes in the District of Waterford-Kenmount. This win was widely recognised as the beginning of the end for 17 years of PC rule and the start of the shift that ushered in the victory of Premier Clyde Wells just a year later.

But that turning point was only recognised and acknowledged in hindsight. Time will tell if Humber Valley is the new Waterford Kenmount but I have to point out that there are more differences than similarities.

This next session of the House should prove entertaining.

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