July 2014 in Politics, with Drew Brown

Drew Brown recaps July in national and local politics. Read on, catch up.

July is a fun month because suddenly everyone switches gears from complaining about the cold weather to complaining about the hot weather. Some people get agitated by this, because they live in a sadistic universe where everyone should be forced outside to enjoy themselves on any sunny day that goes above 25, humidex be damned. These people are bad and wrong. As a Newfoundlander and/or Labradorian you have a God-given right – nay, duty – to drink in the full wonder of Creation and then immediately find fault with it. Anyone saying otherwise is a communist.

Well. Poor old Mike Duffy. Figuratively, anyways – though even then, the Passion of the Duff is maybe the closest any of us will get to socially sanctioned schadenfreude in our lifetimes. After more than a year having his reputation pummelled harder than a hospital in Gaza, the RCMP finally slapped the spendthrift Senator with a whopping 31 criminal charges. It’s an impressive dirty laundry list, mostly allegations of fraud and breach of trust: intentionally fudging his PEI residency claims, charging the Senate for partisan or personal activities (like attending local funerals), and having taxpayers subsidize him $60,000 for a consulting gig where he did little to no work. You know, the greatest hits.

The really interesting part is that the Mounties are also hitting Duffy with bribery charges for the $90,000 cheque he took from Nigel Wright, the Prime Minister’s former chief of staff, last year. Although the Criminal Code of Canada specifies that the crime of bribery lies in corruptly accepting money, Duffy’s lawyers have already asked why it’s a only crime for their client to cash the cheque, and not for Wright to write it. In all likelihood, the circumstances around this greasy donation will be a major fixture of the trial (expected to run up to and maybe through the next federal election), and may even culminate with Stephen Harper being called to testify, under oath, about exactly what he knew about his former right-hand man footing the bill for a Senator’s fraud. This promises to be the Parliamentary legal drama of the century!

Man. That sentence sounded a lot more exciting in my head.

And on top of everything else, it also turns out that Mike “Big Pimpin’” Duffy may have fathered an illegitimate love child with a Peruvian drug smuggler sometime in the early 1980s. In a just world, this would make it to Maury; footage of the ol’ Duff krumping off stage when he learns he’s not the father would be a solid contender for the greatest Canadian Heritage Moment of all time.

Meanwhile, the Tely 10 wasn’t the only gruelling summer race taking place in the province this July. After their recent buzzkill of a botched coronation, the Tories are once again full swing into a second leadership race – this time, notably, involving an actual race. John Ottenheimer, Paul Davis, and Steve Kent are all hoping to snag the Premiership at the PC convention this September. This means that – unlike last time – whoever becomes the next Premier will have actually sat in the House of Assembly sometime during the last ten years.

John Ottenheimer, a former health minister in Danny Williams’ cabinet, signalled his intention to run in Leadership II a few hours after Frank Coleman quit, and has managed to pull a lot of the old guard (both in and out of caucus) into his orbit. As someone who sat out the Kathy Dunderdale years, Ottenheimer is likely hoping to play up the outsider factor and avoid the baggage of an unpopular government. He’s also likely hoping that nobody remembers anything that happened before 2009, lest they recall that he was one of the health ministers who fumbled last decade’s breast cancer testing scandal.

Although Paul Davis came in later than Ottenheimer, he’s picked up the most endorsements so far. First elected in only 2010, he’s also got the widest breadth of experience across cabinet portfolios. He’s also got the best alibi for sitting out the first PC leadership race, as recovering from cancer is a full time job. But by deciding against running a slate in a delegated convention – where party members elect internal representatives to send to convention and decide the race, rather than directly voting on the outcome themselves – he’s also deciding to make his run a lot harder than it has to be.

This leaves Steve Kent, the quintessential political keener who took the leadership plunge just a few days after the birth of his youngest child. As the most recent Minister of Public Engagement, Kent has the social media scene on lockdown – if your only experience of provincial politics is #nlpoli, you’d be forgiven for thinking he’s leading with a thrillion percent support. He’s been involved with public service since before he was eligible to vote, and is now looking to stitch the ‘youngest Premier in Confederation’ badge next to ‘youngest Mayor of Mount Pearl’ on his Scouts Canada sash. Easily the most “progressive” of the conservatives vying for the province’s highest office, Kent is on record supporting a universal pharmacare program and lowering the voting age to 16, among other things. He’s also straddling the most uncomfortable position – marketing his youth as a shorthand for ‘change’ with his commitment to staying the course for an increasingly unpopular provincial government. Can someone stand for both ‘change’ and ‘continuity’ at one and the same time? It’s a bit of a stretch. If nothing else, Kent is the most gifted rhetorical contortionist.

All of this is also happening against the backdrop of slumping poll numbers and the very real danger that no one actually cares who the PCs elect as leader. Disillusion with the governing party is running pretty high and there’s no guarantee whoever becomes the third Premier of 2014 is going to be able to turn the ship around; the upcoming by-election in St. George’s-Stephenville East will forecast just how troubled the Tory waters really are.

They’re probably pretty rough. But then again, on the off-chance they turned out to be sunny skies and smooth sailing, it’s not like that’d make their job of winning back a contrary public any easier.

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