The Last Minute Panic

Two NL seats to watch tonight

The Liberals dropped deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland this weekend into what should be a safe seat for the party.

Obviously, Bonavista - Burin - Trinity isn’t safe for the Liberals.

Obviously.

In 2019, the Conservatives ran an unknown local candidate and came within 2500 votes of beating Liberal incumbent Churence Rogers. The same Conservative candidate is back to challenge Rogers again, this time with a campaign that has attracted support from provincial Conservatives as well.

The weak federal Liberal campaign coupled with a weak provincial Liberal Party - two clusterfuck general election campaigns in a row, folks, against a dead opposition - might be the magic combination the Cons need to take at least one federal seat from the Grits.

Watch the returns tonight to see if Churence Rogers heads back to Ottawa or Sharon Vokey gets the nod. The picture at the head of this column - along with a bunch of others tweeted by Seamus O’Regan - shows the seat is officially in play. Freeland might be enough to save Rogers but if the Liberals are campaigning *this* hard at the last minute, it will likely be very close.

Another seat to watch is Long Range Mountains.

In 2019, the Cons ran a NOB - a name on the ballot - and increased their vote share by something like 26 percentage points.

This time around, the Cons have dropped in a local candidate who has – according to snippets wafting out of the *Liberal* bunker  - got a strong following in pockets of the riding the Liberals won provincially this past winter.  Incumbent Liberal Gudie Hutchings shouldn’t needed a rescue party like Rogers but that doesn’t mean things won’t be tight. 

And there is a chance the Cons can take the seat. Not something to put money on, but again, look at the returns and nod knowingly if the Conservative Party comes pretty close here. Your friends will be impressed.

If the Liberals lose two seats tonight, you will know why.

Share this tale of The New Mummers

Part of what’s going here is a shift in politics away from issues that affect significant chunks of voters in Newfoundland and Labrador.  Both Bonavista-Burin-Trinity and Long Range Mountains have chunks of oil commuters in them.  These are the folks who spend a few weeks a month in Alberta or Saskatchewan and a few weeks back home in rural Newfoundland.  They’ve got money in their pockets all of which comes from a vibrant oil and gas industry.

The federal Liberals’ strong anti-oil agenda pits them squarely against the interest of these voters, their friends, and their family. You don’t need to be a rocket scientist to figure out the result. The federal Liberal anti-gun platform doesn’t help in many parts of the province, but it’s especially troublesome in the rural bits. To make things worse, the provincial Liberals have been lazily copying their federal cousins on many issues - including oil and gas - so the local Liberals don’t have any political strength to offset the weakness at the federal level.

Historically these folks have voted Liberal federally except in one or two rare cases since 1949.  Provincially, it’s the same thing, especially on the Great Northern Peninsula and the west coast. If Liberals are struggling there, then it’s a sign of a problem for the Liberals.

But it’s also part of a much longer political shift in Newfoundland and Labrador that’s been going on since 2003. Oil dominates. We are either talking about how much oil money we have or how much oil money we don’t have. Even when the self-styled progressives scream their extremist anti-oil agenda, we are still talking about oil.

Even for folks who are making their living from oil, political talk in Newfoundland and Labrador is no longer about things that matter west of Mount Pearl. There is no whole-of-province discussion among the political class,  to adapt a phrase (whole-of-government) the local ersatz bureaucrats and policy noobs in governing parties are fond of using.

Political parties don’t talk about lots of things in Newfoundland and Labrador anymore.   Fishery, mining, health care, and education simply vanished from public discussion.  Sure you will hear parents upset about COVID and masks, for example, but the deep discussions about re-organizing schools or re-organizing post-secondary education don’t happen in public.

The collapse of local media across Newfoundland and Labrador just reinforced the trend to stop talking about lots of major public issues.  There aren’t any local news outlets outside of St. John’s anymore except a couple of CBC radio morning shows. Everything else comes from St. John’s.

CBC is an especially good example, even though NTV and VOCM beat it in the ratings. CBC runs a provincial Content Assembly Facility, where piece workers knit together bits and pieces of information to make “content” for radio, television, and the Internet. CBC St. John’s often resembles the student news outlets at Generic University in Newfoundland and Labrador (GUNL), which is just across Westerland Road from CBC’s CAF on the Parkway. So many of CBC’s stories seem to involve people who pop across the street for a quick interview before going back to class.

Neither knowledge, nor expertise, nor even relevance matter in who the average townie CBC producer puts on the air, which is the direction from the Toronto Centre of the CBC universe anyway. They are just opinion pieces and anyone can have an opinion.

The other big source of CBC stories is local Twitter. Since local Twitter is dominated these days by affluent, urban middle class folks from in and around St. John’s, who are more often than not or were just recently GUNL students, there isn’t likely to be much mention of what’s actually going on in Newfoundland and Labrador.  

That’s one reason why radio audiences last week heard - for example - from an international student at GUNL who thought that she deserved the right to vote in local elections even though she isn’t a citizen of Canada and may never become one. A couple of weeks earlier, the same CBC program featured a panel of international students talking about the federal election in which they cannot vote.

Another panel on the federal election last week featured three of those local Twitterati. They may have run for three different parties but the truth is they are part of a very tight circle of folks - those metro Twitterati - who share views, background, and social standing.

Generally, they are privileged in every way compared to everyone else in the province. You can tell some of them are privileged by how often they claim to be victims of one kind or another. Others say they are advocates as if it was their profession. For all of them, it’s part of their personal brand, their self-marketing. That’s a big part of why they are on Twitter, which is where the media look for content. The whole thing is a happy circle in which no cares about the disconnection between the brand and reality.

In a sense, these folks are modern jannies. 

Rebooted mummers.

The face they present to the world is part of a costume.

In St. John’s, there’s a mummers’ parade each December, a place where janneying was against the law and never really as popular as it was in the outports anyway.  Mummers were people who dressed up and went house to house during Christmas often pretending to be people from the supposedly better classes of the community.

The St. John’s mummers parade is different. It is an appropriation of a rural tradition by modern urbanites. It is now the elites pretending to be from the underclasses. Increasingly, as with enrolment at university courses in Newfoundland and Labrador history,  the mummers are immigrants and mainlanders, not Newfoundlanders not Labradorians.

What these urbanites do is not rooted in Newfoundland and Labrador as it was or is.  It is stuff they read in books, mashed with bits of this and fragments of that to create a brand element in their personal story.  They give their creation meaning, interpretation, and a backstory.

But it is not real.

The whole thing is made up.

Few of the rebooted mummers who wind up in the local media talking politics have enough life experience let alone experience with the province to know much beyond their small physical or intellectual neighbourhood.  For most of these New Mummers, the world just west of the Ship Inn and north of the Outer Ring Road is shrouded in an impenetrable fog.  Inside the fog  - the parts in Newfoundland and Labrador anyway - is backwardness at worst or, at best, quaintness, either of which they know only from the provincial tourism commercials produced on Duckworth Street or from what their mainlander professor learned from a book someone else wrote 50 or 60 years ago. 

They can describe at length what is going on in Toronto, New York or some parts of Europe, of course,  often because they have just been there. Put it another way. What they often talk about is stuff important anywhere but Newfoundland and Labrador, yet they insist it is what we must do in Newfoundland and Labrador.

The New Mummer fit the Corp’s editorial agenda, set these days by Toronto in a way it never could before. There is a bureaucratic soullessness and an intellectual colonialism to the whole thing that makes the Orwell of Burmese Days come off like a utopianist.  The Corp’s bureaucratic approach - for example, a fixed percentage of what they call BIPOC stories, to use the racist acronym popular among the trendies, Toronto’s newsrooms, and government’s bureaucrats - ensures the Wellington Street West perspective dominates the country from one end to the other, no matter what.

Things are no better in the print media world, now owned and run out of Halifax with a small Content Assembly Facility in St. John’s. Circulation is shrinking faster than the arteries of its geriatric audience. NTV and VOCM fair considerably better but they are not yet swallowed up in the mainland content assembly system that has taken over everything else.

Even they cannot escape the financial realities of running a news business these days.  While they get little more of political news than the mighty turds the Confederation Building issues regularly, at least they still have people in their newsrooms who know what a turd is and can get out of the way as it drops.  The result is that they will cover the descending night soil as it falls - as journalists should - not get covered by it when it lands.   

Even if there were four functioning newsrooms in the province,  there is little for them beyond the political excreta that dribbles from the Hill.  The opposition parties think they are government so their stuff is as lifeless as what the government party oozes. 

Even Corporatized Labour – currently d.b.a. unions  - does more of its business behind closed doors than in the streets these days. The fisheries union takes so much government money it could be declared a Crown corporation.  Union leaders show both their corporate and personal class allegiances and  aspirations by their words and actions, and by their social circles. Performative displays do not wash off the scent from a luxury hotel’s sheets, figuratively if not literally.

Urban elites within the province control the provincial agenda. You can see it in the three political parties, the news media, and politics generally. Increasingly, those local urban elites align not just with ideas and issues of the urban elites outside Newfoundland and Labrador but completely disconnected from the local.

Classic example: a two page ad in the weekend edition of the Halifax-owned newspaper. Placed by a Toronto lobbying group pleading with Ottawa to make sure that former clients of the guy running the lobby group make all the money from Muskrat Falls they expected. The thing isn’t couched like that but that’s the goal. The lobby group’s small board has a couple of Toronto doctors on it but right next to them are a couple of the New Mummers.

Get down closer to the ground in the federal election. Two ridings the Liberals could count as safe seats have strong Conservative campaigns in them largely because the Liberals have - like the other parties in the province - shifted their focus to metro St. John’s and those urban elites we’ve been talking about. It’s actually even stronger than that since the provincial Liberals have been copying the federal Liberal platform since 2015 in the same way that those urban elites - typified by the New Mummers - have been aping the mainland.

Watch the election Monday night. 

Watch the results and see if a couple of local seats change hands. 

If they do or even if the results are close,  you will know what’s going on.  It isn’t just this election.  It’s a trend driven by political and other changes within Newfoundland and Labrador that started a couple of decades ago.   

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