If you want to get a idea of what it was like being a Liberal in Alberta during the National Energy Program era, or being a recruiter for the Springfield Communist Party on Free Tomato Night, try being a federal Conservative supporter in Newfoundland and Labrador. A new poll puts the Tories at 15% on The Rock, far behind even the New Democrats. (The Liberals look completely dominant in my home province.)
It's been tough for the CPC in Newfoundland since Hurricane Danny blew through, but Tory loyalists did have high hopes for one of the province's seven seats: Avalon, where MP Scott Andrews was unceremoniously booted from the Liberal caucus, and where a scion of Newfoundland's greatest political dynasty was set to carry the CPC banner. In a tough three- or four-way race in what was once the province's Tory heartland, Ches Crosbie had a real shot at winning.
And then the Conservative Party of Canada told him he wouldn't be allowed to run. And as of this writing, no one is really sure why:
Crosbie, a prominent attorney and son of former Progressive Conservative cabinet minister John Crosbie, was told Tuesday by party officials that he wasn't the type of candidate the party is looking for to run in the Newfoundland and Labrador riding of Avalon.
"While I am disappointed and disagree with the party's decision, I respect that it is their right to make it," he wrote in a statement.
"I will not be appealing the matter to the National Council."
Ches's legendary father points the finger at Newfoundland Tory Senator Dabvid Wells, and believes the party is using as an excuse his son's participation in a charity theatrical event that poked gentle fun at Stephen Harper and Mike Duffy.
Another possible reason is that Crosbie is representing Labrador residential school survivors in a class-action lawsuit against the federal government, and will not give up the case if he runs. I could actually get behind that explanation - it does create something of a conflict of interest - but we still don't know for sure.
And that's the most frustrating thing about this entire mess. The Conservatives have given up a potentially strong candidate in a winnable seat, launched rampant media speculation, angered their few dedicated supporters in Newfoundland and Labrador (including John Freaking Crosbie) and no one at CPC headquarters can be bothered to give a clear explanation as to why.
I usually tune out most the hysterical shrieking about the Harper government. But in light of the Crosbie fiasco, the decidedly non-hysterical Andrew Coyne is making real sense when he describes a Prime Minister, and a dwindling core of loyalists, trying to maintain absolute control:
It isn’t just the half-dozen ministers who have, just months before the election, announced their retirements, in some cases (John Baird) without so much as a day’s notice, in others (James Moore) without a word of acknowledgment from the prime minister. It isn’t the two dozen other MPs who will not be running again, or the notable absence of star candidates among the new recruits.
It is the palpable sense of other ministers maintaining their distance, in rhetorical terms at least, unwilling to indulge in the harshly partisan attacks he demands of his subordinates. The undying loyalists, the ones whose careers he promoted on just this basis - the Pierre Poilievres, the Chris Alexanders - will stick with him to the end. But that is pretty much all that remains, a dwindling palace guard of zealous staffers and the callower ministers. “The Harper government” used to be a branding exercise. It is now an almost literal description.
Better times will come for Newfoundland Conservatives. After being wiped out in 1993, the Tories won three Newfoundland seats next time around. The pendulum will eventually swing back.
But it's going to take a while.
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