In case the polls, the defection of two Conservatives, the defection of two New Democrats and the successful by-election results in the tory strongholds of Carbonear and Virginia Water, was not enough evidence that the Provincial Liberals are on the march, a $250,000 fundraising dinner should about do it.
One of my major criticisms of the NL Liberal Party over the past ten years has been the lack of focus on organization and finances. The party has been carrying a large debt since their 2003 fall from grace. No serious erosion of that debt took place up until the past year. The party could not support the infrastructure that it needed to compete with the very rich Progressive Conservatives. Sometimes, I felt, that that those at the helm just gave up on servicing the debt, let alone reducing it!
In this province, donors do not appear to back the opposition parties in any substantial way. They may throw a few dollars to the Liberals, support a golf fundraiser and attend a small dinner. That kind of fundraising does very little to help pay the operational costs of a party that has its hands tied behind it's back by a $700,000 debt.
Unfortunately, this age of transparency and electoral reform is a bit of a double sword for donors. They may wish to support the opposition but in the lean years having your name, or the name of your business printed as a donor to the Opposition was a recipe for being blacklisted. There really was only one game in town and if you did not pay the ante, well you were not in the game.
Over the past year the Liberals have not only risen in the polls, they have adopted technology that helps them organize, promote and raise money. They have more direct mail campaigns to members and supporters. They have offered a direct deposit programs where folks can have funds taken directly out of a person's bank account each month. They have a leader that is poised to become Premier. A leader that people will pay $500 a plate to listen to.
Last night the Liberals held their most successful fundraiser ever. The leader delivered a fiery election style speech pointing out what will no doubt become the theme of the next election - The Conservative legacy - one of missed opportunities and an out of touch Premier who promises more of the same.
My favorite line of the night, capitalizing on the Humber Valley Paving controversy was when Leader Dwight Ball said whatever Premier Frank Coleman does will be "paved with good intentions"
Eliminating the debt is a major priority for Ball. He knows that a well oiled-political machine in this age of the permanent campaign is a costly endeavor. He also realizes that the public are not going to seriously consider a political party that is mired in debt as a competent stewards of the provincial purse.
I would like to see a time in this province when political financing reform bans the practice of corporate donations and personal donations limited to $500. There is no reason that in a democracy like Newfoundland and Labrador could not introduce an annual subsidy that is tied to every vote received in previous election or an average over the last two elections. The government could also increase the rebate that candidates receive for campaign expenses. My point is that politics in our province is too dependent on corporate donations.
Political finance reform would empower the public and dethrone the grasp that paving companies, engineering companies, public relations agencies and others have over the direction and expenditures of government.
Former Liberal Party of Canada President Steve Ledrew once told me that the Jean Chretien's spending reforms were as "dumb as a bag of hammers" because it deprived the party of it's life-blood - corporate donors.
I think a party's life blood should be individuals who believe so deeply in a fair electoral process. By those who believe in parties and leaders and are prepared to be engaged in the process.
That would be real electoral reform that the public would get behind.
This is not your dejected, energized Liberals of the past. This a party on the cusp of trading the opposition benches for the government benches.