Seven by-elections later, without success, the ruling Tories in Newfoundland and Labrador resemble the old Iraq war slogan "shock and awe". Last night it was clearly visible on the faces of the defeated candidates and the cabinet ministers that campaigned on their behalf. It's not that they don't understand what's happening to them, it's just that they don't understand what happened to them.
For the PCs all roads lead to Muskrat Falls. After previously sacred Danny Williams got his Muskrat Falls deal he resigned - mere weeks later. That shattered the "God" image so carefully crafted. The population was left unstable as if it had lost its father, and its foundation had been shaken. Such is the danger of iron man rule - all men are mortal.
Then there was the viscous battle on the airwaves and in the social media over the wisdom and value of the project. The PCs hired expensive communication firms, and stalled requests for information on the project. When that strategy appeared to crack the Tories turned to their normal practice: legislation. They created Bill 29 to amend the Access to Information Act. Typically that would be shuffled off as no big deal. It's not as if the public are filing access requests. However, the press, smelling a rat, went ballistic. Muskrat Falls opponents and the opposition parties grabbed onto the issue, backed by the press, and even forced a multi-day filibuster. More importantly the image was sealed. The PCs couldn't sell the bill as just normal legislation, and the public began seeing it as an act to cover-up Muskrat Falls dealings. That was when the trust was violated.
Thereafter the PCs, generally speaking, lost public trust in their word, but not necessarily in the project. Newly appointed leader Dunderdale and her team, which included Williams' brother, decided to attack the Muskrat Falls opponents rather than address the core public trust issue. She termed opponents as "nay-sayers, known critics of the government" etc... Her arrogance, and that of her colleagues, was so palpable the public became repulsed. When the PUB refused to give the project an unfettered endorsement, the PCs went crazy with indignation - including Williams who derided not just opponents, but also the PUB. It was war in a way. The problem for the PCs was their guns were focused in the wrong direction. As distrust grew, the people began taking opponents accusations seriously, and so an attack on the assertions of proponents began to be an attack on the people themselves.
It always was, and remained a battle for hearts and minds. The PCs refusal to alter their strategy of arrogantly attacking those opposed to their vision, and instead addressing the core issue of trust, resulted in a solidification of the view that "the PCs were out of touch". A natural result when a government can't see the core issue and instead shoots the messenger. So great was the vitriol that Dunderdale became almost detested by the public. The PC caucus decided their poll numbers were bad enough to fire Dunderdale, and they did just that. However, by this time, the public considered them, rightly so, as all infected by the same affliction - arrogance.
As if to emphasize the point the PCs, led on the outskirts by Williams, attacked leadership candidate Bill Barry (a reformist-type candidate) and coronated a pro-Muskrat Falls businessman - Frank Coleman. At one time an endorsement by Williams would have guaranteed a candidate acceptance among the public, but this time it back fired. The endorsement hung around Coleman's head like a guillotine, and in the end the blade came down. Coleman's company, HVP, was quietly released from a money losing government contract in Labrador, and the $18 million dollar performance bonds that were meant to guarantee it. After months of agony, and accusations "Danny's Man" was simply implementing "Danny's Will", Coleman resigned before he was even sworn in.
That led to another leadership race, after the first one was quietly swept under the carpet like it never happened, and Paul Davis was anointed the new PC leader. Davis immediately came under scrutiny for political ties to his old employer, the RNC provincial police. At the core of the issue were campaign donations that were banned by the RNC Act. (to this day the 2013 Political Contribution List has not been released publicly - although it has been ready for 7 months I'm aware of). Furthermore, an apparent political deal reached between himself and perennial political opportunist Steve Kent still hung in the air as Kent was appointed Deputy Premier. The public smelled the same-old Tory contempt for democracy that had its roots in the Muskrat Falls battles, and Davis was labelled. Then came consummation of another apparent political deal when Senator Manning's (a Davis leadership supporter) niece was appointed to cabinet as an unelected Justice Minister.
Every action has a reaction. Every move the PCs made over the last four years did the exact opposite of what they intended. They reinforced the perception created by the Muskrat Falls battles that secrecy and power were the poison of choice for the PCs. They never adjusted from having a front man that could sell ice to Eskimos. They never saw the effect of the 5th column that battled them at every turn over Muskrat Falls. They never realized that the core issues with Muskrat Falls would stick and become the core issues against the government. There are none so blind as those that refuse to see. So it went with the PCs. All their roads led to Muskrat Falls.
Straining to restrain
1 hour ago