It’s interesting how life can be at times. Lately it seems that everyday I go to drive home from work, something big happens during the two hours it takes me to get from door to door. It seems that whenever I pull into my driveway lately and check my phone to see if I’ve gotten any emails or check my social media, I come home to find a bit story that surprises or comes out of the blue.
Well that happened again tonight, this time coming from St. John’s. It was just Monday evening that Liberal Premier of Newfoundland & Labrador announced that he was stepping aside as Liberal leader, kicking off a race to replace him. Some in the media pointed to a forthcoming leadership review vote that he seemed unlike to succeed in as the reason for leaving now, but regardless of the reason, the decision was taken. And in the shadow of that announcement a big story has come out that puts that choice in a whole new light, and that could turn politics in the province right on its head:
A coalition government?!?!?! Ooohh, now that’s a twist straight out of 2008. It turns out that the provinces Progressive Conservatives, New Democrats, a small group of Liberals and Independent MHA Paul Lane have been having talks about forming a coalition government to replace the Ball (for now) Liberals. That would put the Liberals in an amazing position of having gone from having to replace a Premier to having to replace a Leader of the Official Opposition, with a diminished caucus to boot. That would be an amazing change of fortune in less than two weeks.
The details added by CBC’s David Cochrane are quite fascinating too. He says that there’s broad agreement on sharing cabinet posts but a big part of all this rides on what the at least four Liberals might do. According to Cochrane, that all depends on who might run to replace Ball. Cochrane also points out that “there is a sense that the endless cycle of patronage controversies, the House of Assembly bullying scandal, the Gerry Byrne versus the world controversies have crippled the house’s ability to do meaningful work.” That’s quite something when you think about it, that the work of the whole Newfoundland and Labrador House of Assembly has been so hurt to the point that it would require taking such a step.
But there is another interesting quirk in this story, that all poli-geeks out there will love. Under the provinces electoral law, whenever a Premier resigns as party leader and their party needs to replace them, the province must have an election within a year of that new leader rising to the Premier’s office. But according to another tweet from Cochrane, “there would only need to be an election within a year of Ball’s replacement being picked if it comes from the same party.” He goes onto say that he doesn’t think “that law applies to a coalition replacing a minority. The hypothetical coalition would govern as long as it could survive.” He doesn’t think…. Folks, that’s an interesting use of language on his party because that’s one way of saying if this all came to pass, the province would be heading into unknown territory when it came to what this would mean.
Cochrane’s interpretation could be what rules the day, but what if there is disagreement on what it means? Does it go to the courts? Does it go to the Lieutenant Governor of Newfoundland and Labrador Judy Foote to decide? You know, the same Judy Foote who as a Liberal MP for nearly a decade, a Minister in Justin Trudeau’s government, and the mother of Carla Foote, the subject of the patronage scandal that has dogged the Ball Liberals, leading us to this situation? Yeah, it could all lead to that point, which would lead to all kinds of issues of its own. But of course, before any of that can happen, Mrs. Foote would need to give this coalition government a chance to govern. Although I doubt that she would stand in the way of giving them a chance and avoiding an election, it’s still an interesting dynamic.
Regardless this story has gotten that much more fascinating. Formal coalition governments in Canada, Federally or Provincially, are extremely rare to see. Even in this age of seeing so many minority governments across the country, there is only one government operating on as much as a Supply Vote Agreement. Thanks to what happened in 2008, forming formal coalitions has been given a dirty taint in the eyes of some. But even before that, you hadn’t seen them very often in Canada at all. So if this motley political crew did band together to form a formal coalition government, it would be the first of its kind that Canada has probably seen since the Conscription Crisis of 1917. Yes folks, over 100 years and even in that case it was only members of two parties coming together. In this case, if it all comes to be, it would involve members of at least three, very different parties. Not only would it be fascinating to see the kind of program they would cobble together with such divergent backgrounds, it would be amazing to watch how it would work. That coalition would become a great case study for generations of students of politics to come, and its success or failure could have a big impact well beyond the borders of the province. So yeah, no pressure folks.
With everything going on in Ottawa right now, political observers will also need to keep an eye on St. John’s for a piece of potential political history playing out. Or at the very least, high political drama. This news tonight surely came right out of the blue and if this does come to pass, wow, it will be something to behold with ripple effects that we’ll feel for a while.