I remember hanging out at the bar in the Stephenville Holiday Inn in January 1996, with Gerry Byrne and some of Brian Tobin's ministerial staff, discussing the Humber-St. Barbe-Baie Verte seat. Some federal cabinet minister had flown into town for a press conference, and our bosses were upstairs talking.
It was Gerry's moment, his turn to step up. He had to make up his mind because we knew Tobin was on the verge of making his intentions to replace Clyde Wells official, leading to a by-election. That nomination turned into an eight person contest, but Byrne emerged on top.
Sixteen years later, Gerry Byrne has been a cabinet minister, a lead critic and has won seven elections. In the 2011 election he racked up one of the largest margins of victory in Atlantic Canada against former Danny Williams cabinet minister Trevor Taylor. An interesting footnote: Byrne had trounced Taylor in the 2000 general election. In that campaign Taylor ran as a New Democrat. So is politics on the rock.
Many people are looking to Gerry Byrne as a possible contender for the leadership of the provincial Liberal Party. Many say he likes to hear the whisper of his name but is not a serious contender.
How could a person who has been elected seven times, served two Prime Ministers in Cabinet and is a household name in provincial politics not be a contender.
Think about it for a few moments.
The whisper might not be enough to lure this successful and passionate Newfoundlander away from his comfortable role as a Member of Parliament. However, circumstances have a way of offering new opportunities.
How long is this 46 year old going to be content to pick his nose sitting on the backbench of Canada's third party. Will he have the opportunity to serve in cabinet again? Can he do more for his home province on the provincial scene?
Then there is the Harper Government's new MPs' pension reform. This guy has accumulated 3% of his salary for the past 16 years, come next election close to 20 years. Is he going to stick around under the new rules where he will have to pay upwards of $40,000 a year towards his pension to build up that same 3%, but not be eligible to collect any of it until he is 65?
As well, Byrne is one of a small handful of Liberals in this province who actually have an organization on the ground. Byrne's organization has produced seven wins for him.
It is no secret that the Liberal Party of Newfoundland's grassroots organization is in shambles. A paper tiger at best, with about six exceptions. The best organized Liberal machines can be found in the other three federal Liberal ridings. I would also argue that former Liberal MP Siobhan Coady still commands a strong organization of workers in St. John's-South Mount Pearl.
In light of the Liberals' new "electoral vote" leadership selection process, these organizations are an important consideration for any potential leadership candidate.
And what if Tom Marshall takes that walk in the snow at Marble Mountain over the holidays and opts for his much postponed retirement. Would the Progressive Conservatives be able to mount a campaign against Gerry Byrne in Humber East?
Gerry Byrne, a leadership candidate with a seat in the House of Assembly, would have momentum. To discount Gerry Byrne as a potential candidate in the next Liberal Leadership would be silly.
Of course, Byrne would have to figure out a plan to retire the Liberal Party's $650,000 debt and raise another million for a campaign. A tall order for anyone who wants the job.
So, not too unlike that stormy January night in Stephenville in 1996, Gerry once again has a date with destiny. Does he want to be leader of the Liberal Party and potentially the next Premier of Newfoundland and Labrador?
As Gerry knows better than most, politics is all about timing.