Is it too soon to say, "So long, Rodney?"
The final outcome is still far from a done deal, of course. Forget those public opinion polls predicting an NDP victory in next month's elections. Those numbers reflect mostly province-wide aggregates of voting intentions; real-life elections in Nova Scotia are usually won and lost in the electoral trenches of a small number of individual ridings where a subtle swing of a few hundred votes in one direction or another---or another---can result in a tsunami of political consequence.
But this election is more complicated. Last week, I asked Brian Flinn---allnovascotia.com's politics reporter and one of the province's most astute political observers---which ridings he believed were still in doubt. Without breaking a sweat or consulting notes, he rhymed off 10 constituencies where the outcome still isn't clear.
The wild card in most of them is what will happen to the Liberal and Tory voters.
In the last election, the Liberals were so awful even many traditional Liberal voters deserted them. This campaign, Stephen McNeil has been more than credible. But can he win those voters back? And, if so, from whom? The Tories? The NDP?
If, as expected, the traditional Tory vote collapses on election day, where will it seek shelter? Will it help the Liberals? Or the NDP?
It is possible that after the electoral music stops June 9, enough Liberal candidates will have plunked themselves into enough empty chairs to vault into power. It is much less likely but still possible that an uptick in Liberal support could hurt the NDP enough to allow the Tories to cling to power.
But let us suppose for the moment that the most expected happens and Rodney MacDonald's Tory government is defeated, as it deserves to be, and Rodney's career as leader is over, as it also deserves to be.
Are there lessons to be learned from that? Beyond, of course, the obvious: that governments, like fish, begin to stink after too long in the sun.
If the Conservatives lose, it strikes me the person second-most responsible for their electoral failure will have been Rodney MacDonald.
MacDonald himself is not such a bad guy. I only talked in depth with him once but he seemed personable enough, and much brighter than he sounds in his scripted, stick-to-the-talking-points public pronouncements. And he did grow in the job; given where he began, of course, it would have been unimaginable for him not to have. But he never appeared, in my interview with him then, or in anything I read before or since, to have a clue why he wanted to be premier or what he wanted to actually do in the job.
The irony is that the men he defeated for the Tory leadership in 2006, former finance minister Neil LeBlanc and Halifax businessman Bill Black, were both small-c conservatives whose policies were grounded in principles.
Which brings me to those most responsible for their party's current mess: the Tory backroom boys and their handmaidens, the convention delegates, who convinced themselves MacDonald's inability to articulate a clear vision for what this province should be and his obvious inexperience in the substance of policy were not liabilities but assets.
The arguments in favour of Rodney boiled down to two: he was a fresh face with no political baggage---of the intellectual or experience varieties---to weigh him down, and that he was relatively young, which meant that---ipso facto, ergo sum---he could appeal to younger voters whom they trusted to be narcissistic enough to be attracted by his relative youngishness and dumb enough not to notice that he had nothing else going for him.
When what passes for the Tory brain trust goes back to the drawing board, as it will have to after this election, one hopes they will begin by giving voters more credit than they did three years ago.
In the meantime, so long, Rodney. We hardly knew you.
What's Rodney's next career move? Let me know at email@example.com.
posted by KYLE SHAW, Nov 9/16
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