God Guard Thee by Drew Brown: Breaking Down the Mount Pearl North By-Election

Byelections generally only offer us a limited snapshot of the political climate in a given system, and this goes double for the district of Mount Pearl North. St. Johns’ pluckiest suburb has been ardent Tory turf more or less since its inception.

Congratulations to Dwight Ball on two years as the Premier of Newfoundland and Labrador. Time flies when you’re having fun.

You’re having fun, right? No? Yeah, us neither.

Nothing personal, of course. It’s a tough job for the best person at the best of times, let alone when you’ve got ne’er one working in your favour. Some sympathy for the devil is certainly in order – especially since the byelection bust in Mount Pearl.

Byelections generally only offer us a limited snapshot of the political climate in a given system, and this goes double for the district of Mount Pearl North. St. Johns’ pluckiest suburb has been ardent Tory turf more or less since its inception. The fact that it was held by Jim Lester is nothing earth-shattering, although it’s nice to see a farmer take up residence in the People’s House. It may not be as pleasant as the land deal he could have gotten as part of the government side, but, I can only imagine that the tasty thrill of victory is very sweet indeed.

Realistically, I doubt many Liberals seriously expected to pick up a seat in Mount Pearl North. But cratering as hard as they did in the district after laying down so much federal firepower has really got to sting. They played it all very much by the book: sharp candidate, efficient and modern campaign organizing, and very subtly announcing a Muskrat Falls judicial inquiry the day before the vote. In retrospect, it was probably a mistake to put the Premier’s face on television so close to a crucial byelection, but you can’t blame them for trying.

The real winners here may very well be the provincial NDP. They were for all intents and purposes dead in the water going into this race: all but written off prior to the writ drop, the party’s own leader opted to resign rather than run a byelection in his own district. The party has been a non-force in the province since at least 2013, and there was no reason to expect that it would be much different here.

Except, somehow, it was. In a few short weeks the NDP managed to throw together an electoral machine that came within 100 votes of a new government two years into its first mandate, which is no mean feat for a party that otherwise looked downright moribund. Not to stress its connection to the epic St. John’s election in September, but things definitely seem to be a little more peppy in the metro region these last few months. More than a few of the players behind Maggie Burton’s city-wide blitz wound up working in Nicole Kieley’s camp, and that might signal some exciting things ahead for the Avalon’s long-suffering New Democrats.

The most interesting dynamic of all here is that only about 45% of registered voters bothered to cast a ballot. Byelections are rarely make-or-break affairs that draw large crowds, but this is par for the course in a province characterised by depressed voter turnout. Beyond the horse race, the real story in NL politics these days is that people are more or less sick to death of the status quo. The PCs, God bless them, won this on inertia: the inertia of a building in free fall, the same blind structural force that put Dwight Ball in office in 2015, got Muskrat Falls sanctioned, and ensured that our half decade of prosperity would slip through our open palms like thrashing fish. Politics in this province right now feels like people arguing about rearranging the table settings while the kitchen is on fire. Trivial, meaningless, short-sighted, possibly doomed.

Sorry, this has gone off the rails a little bit. You know how it gets here this time of year, with the chill of coming winter creeping around the place like the pale spectre of death. Starts to make everything seem a little bleak – especially gazing into the abyss of a province in terminal crisis.

Anyway, happy anniversary to Premier Ball. Good luck making it to 2019.

Written By
More from Drew Brown

Re-cast: June in Politics, by Drew Brown

Drew Brown recaps June in local politics. Read on, catch up.
Read More