Sound and Furey
Victory speech ignored the shambolic Liberal campaign and its consequences
The victory speech Andrew Furey delivered Saturday afternoon was the one someone loaded into his TelePrompTer in January but forgot to take out.
All the talk of clear majority mandate, boldness, and transformative change came from the low-quality polling, the lower-quality strategic assessment, and visions of a near sweep of the legislature that Furey took to Government House in January looking for an election..
The speech Furey read robotically three months later had nothing to do with the mess of a campaign Furey and his Brain Trust ran in the meantime. Furey fooled no one outside his own small circle with his speech.
To understand what this means politically, think of it this way.
Twice in two years, Andrew Furey and the Liberals took on two opposition parties that didn’t want an election, were only slightly less prepared that the unprepared Liberals, and starved of cash. In 2019, with Furey in the backroom and Dwight Ball as leader, the Liberals almost lost the government after a single term. In 2021, with Furey in Ball’s place, the Liberals were only a couple of hundred votes from being back where they started in January. As in 2019, none of their wild predictions came true.
The result is that while Andrew Furey is Premier, that is about all he can say.
Furey and the Liberals have no mandate for change. The turn-out is a record low. It fell dramatically compared to 2019 the farther you got from St. John’s.
In one sense, this is just as well, since Andrew Furey has no intention of making any serious changes to anything government is doing unless he is forced to by the government’s creditors or his Ottawa friends.
We know this because Furey has been in office since August but has made no changes. Actions speak louder than words. Furey’s silence screams. We know this because Furey has said so using the trendy word “austerity.” Not the time for it, Furey has said repeatedly. In his speech on Saturday, Furey talked of change a decade from now. In politics, that is code for “someone else will do it.”
This is also just as well since Furey’s entire caucus – save for one or two members – isn’t interested in anything that would upset their peaceful lives. Furey and his Brain Trust have no power to change their minds. Like Ball in 2019 or Roger Grimes in 2001, Furey cannot “put a bit of stick about” as Francis Urquhart – fictional Prime Minister in the original House of Cards – used to say whenever cabinet or caucus were getting too head-strong. Andrew has no stick.
Then there is the issue of legitimacy. Two public polls released this month showed that, respectively, a third or half of those polled thought the election was illegitimate. Add to that the result released this weekend of a poll of candidates by political scientists Kelly Blidook and Royce Koop. Blidook tweeted this chart on Sunday.
None of this is good. That’s a huge point Furey and his Brain Trust missed entirely over the weekend. Their confused messaging – no intention of change but promising massive transformation – will only make this worse. The fear of change, even though none is coming, will get people’s backs up.
People are not fond of Furey as it is. A poll by Angus Reid Institute released earlier this month found that as many people were unhappy with Furey’s leadership as were happy with him. The drop in his positives is not important as big as the quick growth of his negatives. From 27% in December to 45% three months later.
To get his negatives that high, Furey pissed off people who were indifferent to him three months earlier. Furey’s speech on Saturday just reminded them this guy talks about leadership but does not act like a leader. Actions speak louder than words.
John Abbott poses a special challenge to Furey. Furey and his Brain Trust did not support his candidacy. Furey’s staffers publicly supported another candidate for the nomination. Abbott beat them. Then Abbott delivered a prize by beating NDP leader Alison Coffin. Abbott is one of the best qualified people Furey has in his caucus.
The inclination on the Eighth Floor might be to screw Abbott over like Ball and his crowd did to Cathy Bennett. He deserves a cabinet spot in a major portfolio. But will he get one?
The Liberal caucus is mostly a bunch of rookies. Most were first elected in 2015 or 2019. Only a couple - literally two - pre-date that. But even the newest of them are salty now. They have been through the wars and lived. They will not put up with nonsense like they did before. They know their own political weight. In some cases, they are hefty.
Some in Furey’s cabinet might not want to move. They can simply turn him down and Furey will be hard-pressed to shift them out. This is an example of the practical implications of running a weak leadership campaign and a half-assed election. People who think Premiers are all-powerful are all-wrong, as Ian Brodie and Archie Brown show. And when they are politically weak compared to the rest of caucus - as Furey is right now - they are really not that powerful at all.
Nor are Furey’s political problems confined to his own caucus. Furey spent much of his time in office so far cosplaying Justin Trudeau from 2015. This was especially true with his talk of reconciliation with Indigenous people. But his performance said something else. Furey’s Brain Trust couldn’t produce anything better than a name-on-ballot at the last minute in Torngat Mountains.
Furey made no effort before calling the election to ensure Bruce Chaulk was ready for one. That includes ensuring there were election materials in Indigenous languages. When the election went pear-shaped, Furey insisted everything was okay rather than joining in the criticism of Chaulk’s performance. It was an easy point that would have cost him nothing but Furey endorsed Chaulk, instead. The fact that voter turn-out in Labrador generally was the lowest in the province, and in Torngat the lowest of all, doesn’t just make Furey look bad. It undermines his credibility. Actions speak louder than words.
Knocking off Ches Crosbie and Alison Coffin may look like a big deal to the inexperienced but in the bigger picture, the victories do nothing but buy Liberals a couple of years. Expect the Pea Seas to find a new leader quickly, once Crosbie packs it in. They ran a creditable campaign. If, in the meantime, they put someone like Lela Evans in the leader’s job in the House, Liberals can expect some aggression that could bolster Pea Sea credibility.
As for the New Democrats, the party that has been perpetually fighting with itself since 2013 will now fight some more. That’s not the important bit as far as Liberal fortunes are concerned. Weakening the New Democrats in metro St. John’s frees up voters who traditionally vote blue when they don’t vote orange. They will be drawn to a resurgent Pea Sea team if there is no attractive NDP.
Meanwhile, none of the province’s problems have lessened. There is no action to fix the government’s spending problems. There is no intention to do anything either. The problems at Muskrat Falls mount. The thing is not finished. Costs are going up. The latest news is that the line to the island has major flaws in design that make doubtful its performance in bad weather. There is no plan that will mitigate the impact of Muskrat Falls costs on Newfoundlanders and Labradorians.
Andrew Furey’s victory speech on Saturday was a lot of sound but it signifies very little change or anything good for him politically.
Anyone who says otherwise is wrong.