Here in Ontario, as in some other provinces, today is a holiday. In Ontario, we call it Family Day. In Manitoba, it’s Louis Riel Day. But in Newfoundland & Labrador today is just another normal day of school and business. So, while most Canadians have been enjoying an extra February day off, big news came out of St. John’s, news that surprised many and puts the minority Parliament there in an interesting new light:
Yelp folks, Newfoundland & Labrador Liberal Premier Dwight Ball decided to take his own walk in the snow, which is timely because St. Johns isn’t lacking for at the moment. While this news comes as a surprise to many in Ottawa, those more plugged into the politics of The Rock are seemingly less surprised by it all. CBC’s David Cochrane points out that Ball was to face a leadership review soon, one that he might not get through. He’s also had his share of scandals in his shorter time as Liberal Leader, like the sexual harassment scandal they faced and “The Rooms” scandal, the two which pop to mind first.
Add to that baggage the fact that Ball faced the electorate just last May, ending with his majority reduced to a minority and losing a not-so-insignificant 14% of the vote. Also consider the fact that for the first time in a while, the NDP didn’t run a full slate of candidates (not even close to it to be honest), the Liberals should have been able to hold onto their majority, just with the lack of competition. But nope, Newfoundlanders and Labradoreans sent them back with a minority Parliament and gave Ball a decent rebuke.
What this means for the government of Newfoundland and Labrador should be interesting, especially depending on how succeeds Ball in this role. For starters, I would expect that this move today Ball will not just start the clock on the vote to replace him, but for the next provincial election itself. I would expect that whoever wins the race to replace Ball will want to go to the electorate sooner than later.
The other interesting thing here will be to see how this government manages this period between tonight’s announcement and the leadership vote. Normally when you see a leader step down in a minority government, it’s an Opposition leader, not a Premier. So normally when that leader resigns, it gives a government more leeway to move on priorities, kind of like what we’re seeing in Ottawa right now. But this is the opposite and a very different set of circumstances. Ball is now a lame duck Premier and it’s not like he’ll be going out of his way to do big policy things, as it would put his replacement in a potentially odd situation.
But how do you govern as a lame duck without accidentally bringing yourself down in the process? That is the open question and that’s what we’re going to see play out for the next little while. Are the Progressive Conservatives and New Democrats itching for an election sooner than later, one where maybe the Liberals won’t have a new leader in place? That’s a possibility if the Liberals don’t handle this just right. Remember, the Liberals can’t control this environment and would the other parties in the House of Assembly decide it’s in their best interest to take this government down in this period? That is the threat both the PC’s and NDP can swing around for the next few months and can do it credibly.
It’s a wild time to watch politics across this country, with all the minority governments and what can come from those. Tonight’s resignation adds to that craziness and makes for a unique and potentially perilous situation for the Liberals in Newfoundland and Labrador. While we wish Mr. Ball the best in his retirement after the next election, another Liberal government is dealing with tricky political landscapes. With this move, Dwight Ball just ramped up the difficulty on this manoeuvre and we’ll see if they can pull this off, or if this will result in an election and a faceplant.