Back in 2004 when I was the Chief of Staff in the Office of the Official Opposition, I oversaw some research into what I felt was the second largest threat facing the Liberal Party of Newfoundland and Labrador in the long term.
The clear and present threat was a a tired, fed up caucus and a staff that were just coasting to the next election. Of course, there is no reward for telling truth to power, just the guillotine. The biggest long term threat was the lack of effort that was being applied to managing the debt and re-organizing the parties grass root machinery. Everyone felt they had paid their dues, and Danny was unassailable. He might have been, but there was a job to be done.
The second largest threat may rise to the surface this fall. It is the potential rise in the electability of New Democrats to the provincial House of Assembly. The NDP had not formed a government in Nova Scotia in 2004, but they were heading for the official opposition and government was within reach. Voting habits in the traditional two party system had changed. The NDP were not prospering in the rural farming, mining and fishing towns where unionism and co-opertism were strong. The growth was in the urban areas. It was this growth, and the slow but steady gains that made be think, threat to the establishment. (Opportunity for the public perhaps)
Of course, I was not taken very seriously. The NDP were a joke, they were going no where. What could they offer anyone. The demographics of a larger urban population in the future, that at some point will demand a serious realignment of electoral seats amplifies the potential opportunity for the NDP at the expense of both the Liberals and the Conservatives.
Many political watchers argue that the dominance of the PC Party in the 1970's and 1980's was as much about the addition of seats in the House of Assembly inside the overpass as it was about leadership and Liberal party rifts. The balance of power was shifted away from the rural and towards the urban. Despite the significant population shift to the Avalon in the past two decades, the electoral boundaries have not been dramatically adjusted. In fact, I believe that if the current arrangement could be successfully challenged in the Supreme Court because rural political power greatly exceeds it's population and entitlement to seats under in a system where every vote should be equal. The Supreme Court of Canada has ruled, in
the Electoral Boundaries Reference case, that Canadians
should have a relatively equal voting power.
Roll together that this redistribution must occur (it is inevitable, whether I like it or not) and a rise in the attractiveness of the NDP and you see the potential for the party. Today, the NDP have become a force to be reckoned with. Both St. John's federal ridings are represented by hard working, known, credible NDP MP's. The vast majority of voters in the region have voted NDP. It is no longer throwing a vote away. The Jack Harris beachhead has become an assault on the traditional two party system.
The provincial NDP have a professional dedicated staff. The residual of the official opposition not playing an A -Game has meant that the NDP leader has garnered more media opportunities and credibility at the expense of the Liberals, particularly in vote rich St. John's. The recent electoral success of the NDP proves that change can happen quickly once it starts to take hold. An NDP campaign that is full of electable community, municipal and business leaders as opposed to names on ballots could be a force to be reckoned with this fall.
Imagine the potential gains the NDP can make when the redistribution of seats more accurately reflects the one vote
Yes, governments defeat themselves. In a two party system that normally ensures that the other dominant party gains. The equation has changed in this province, New Democrats can and will win seats this fall. I predict, as I did in 2004, that they are poised to make a significant jump in support at the expense of the Conservatives.
The Liberals have not figured out how to play in a three party system. Arrogance displayed in a belief that the NDP are not a threat this fall will be there final undoing. The perceived rift in the PC Party is going to deliver votes, candidates and support to the NDP. You can feel it in the air. You hear in the conversations around the community, at the board room tables, at the water cooler and at the coffee shops. People who liked Danny Williams, are mad. They are dissapointed. They are disillusioned. They are going to vote NDP, unless they can be convinced that the Liberals stand for something.
Another factor , that must be considered, is the tendency of rural voters to go with the government side because having a government member is considered critical to infrastructure and make-work funding. I would argue that this is less of a factor in St. John's where municipal politicians enjoy much greater profiles than MHAs
In a competitive three party system, a crumbing government does not ensure gains for the official opposition.