By Ivan Morgan / August 25, 2023
If you had peered through the window of a cozy little cottage on the outskirts of St. John’s late on a November evening in 1969, you would have seen a 10-year-old me sitting right in front of the family TV. I was watching a live telecast of the Liberal Party convention on CJON (later NTV) from Memorial Stadium (now Memorial Dominion supermarket). I was watching because I wanted to see my parents on TV, and I wanted to stay up late, and the babysitter let me (score!).
I had little idea what was going on other than my parents were part of a team to elect John Crosbie leader of the Liberals (and thus premier). Joey Smallwood had announced his retirement and then changed his mind and ran for the leadership. My parents said it was because Mr. Crosbie was running. Our house had been a beehive of preparations in the days leading up to the convention.
I didn’t really have any idea what I was watching, but I remember suddenly seeing my mother standing on a chair at the front of the stage, in badly focused black and white, angrily pumping her fists and chanting. More and more people joined in.
She seemed very angry.
Smallwood had won the leadership at the convention, and, in her opinion, cheated Crosbie out of it. She had lost her, well you know, and had started chanting defiance at Smallwood and the others on the stage. Many joined her. After the convention they all joined the Tories, and the rest is history.
This memory came to me when I was thinking about the upcoming Progressive Conservative leadership convention in October of this year. I have been involved in many leadership races and conventions, with all political parties, as a member, an organizer, or an observer. I have seen a lot of drama.
The point of a leadership convention, other than choosing a new leader, is to re-energize the party faithful, bring everyone together to network and schmooze, form relationships, and generate lots of public attention. And party hard. All with the aim of forming government. After all, the root of the word convention is convene – to come together.
A leadership convention is a convention on steroids.
In a column this spring I reviewed a book by local author Sonia Glover about the 2001 Liberal leadership battle between John Efford and Roger Grimes. The book outlines in detail that nasty messy fight – and here’s my point – very much played out in public.
Which is why the latest PC leadership convention build-up weirds me out. There doesn’t appear to be one. There’s been precious little in the news all summer about the race or the candidates, and not a lot on social media.
Am I missing something? So far this leadership race seems a total snorefest. The PCs are supposed to be the government in waiting. I remember Danny Williams in Opposition, outraged by the fact he wasn’t in charge. He could not bear the fact that Roger Grimes, elected in a leadership race (see above) was premier, and refused to test his mandate by calling an election. Grimes was premier and he wasn’t. He acted like it as an offense against nature.
Where’s that energy?
Leadership races are a terrific time for free media exposure. Where is it? The Liberals have been in power for coming up on eight years. Some people are itching for a change. The obvious option is the PCs. Where’s the hunger, where’s the burning thirst for power?
Maybe I am out of touch? Maybe the plan is a low-key leadership race? Things did not work out for the Liberals after the Efford-Grimes dust-up. Are the Tories trying to avoid that? Are they going for the “one big happy family” image? Are they waiting until after Labour Day to ramp things up?
I am not partisan, and I am not picking on the Tories. I am just curious. Is this the new way? Is it supposed to be this bland?
Government, no matter what the stripe, needs a strong opposition to keep it on its toes. They don’t want a “barbarian at the gates” scenario. They don’t want another party that seems poised to kick them and all their hangers on out of the Confederation Building.
They must be mighty pleased at the moment.
Ivan Morgan can be reached at email@example.com