Winning the premiership used to be the pinnacle, the top prize in the provincial government. Right now, it’s started looking more like a bauble, the sort of prize you find in a crackerjack box.
Whether you like or dislike them, think of the time and effort it took Joey Smallwood or Frank Moores to grab the brass ring. Brian Peckford? A remarkable story of grit, hard work and the fortuitousness of good timing. Clyde Wells? A premier who had to fight his own love of personal privacy to become a political leader first in opposition, and then in the premier’s office.
Even Danny Williams had to fight in the trenches of the opposition, with chronic underfunding and the grimmest office space the governing Liberals could find to stuff him into.
Sure, many of those were unopposed in leadership conventions — but most of the time, this province’s premiers paid their dues in opposition. There have been others in the office who fought their biggest battles just to find the leadership of their own parties: Roger Grimes and Tom Rideout, for example. Brian Tobin and Beaton Tulk? Well, Tulk was a stopgap during the Liberal leadership process, and Brian Tobin earned his chops winning in politics before coming home to a simple fight.
But what about now?
Premiers 10, 11 and almost 12 have been essentially the only ones willing to take the job. There hasn’t been any sort of challenge for the leadership for Kathy Dunderdale (who won a provincial election, but on the coattails of Danny Williams’ personal popularity and in the midst of near-total disarray in the province’s opposition parties), Tom Marshall or Frank Coleman.
And now, more than anything else, the talk is more about those running away from the leadership of the party than it is about those wanting to go out and get it.
Face it, there’s been more talk about those saying a resounding “no” to the job than there is about those who might want it.
And maybe “crackerjack prize” is the wrong term: maybe “party favour” would be a better one.
That seems to be what you really need to get the premiership right now; not the support of the people of this province. Not even the support of the hard-core card-carrying members of the Progressive Conservative party. No, it seems to be something bestowed by those who pull the strings from out of sight in the Tory establishment.
It’s all there, if you have the right friends, have the right money, and have the small amount of will to actually see the process through.
It used to be a crowning achievement. Now, it looks more like just another box to be ticked off, like buying that sailboat that’s bigger than your business competitor’s or getting that critical piece of corporate recognition.
It was an office that used to mean something.
It’s a premiership devalued.