In Newfoundland, politics is nothing if not entertaining …not unlike a Sunday afternoon at a roman coliseum. But when two prominent and outspoken journalists cross the battlefield to run in the Oct 14th federal election, the blood letting is
…well, LET THE GAMES BEGIN!!.
Walking willingly into the stadium, Ryan Cleary, former editor of the now defunct Newfoundland nationalist weekly newspaper, the Independent, won the nomination for the NDP in St. John's South-Mount Pearl and Craig Westcott, editor and publisher of The Business Post, for the Conservatives in St. John's East. …and these guys used to friends and colleagues at The Telegram many years ago.
Both of these seats have been vacated by retiring Conservative MPs, Loyola Hearn and Norm Doyle, putting them in play but also smack in the middle of Premier Danny Williams ” Anybody but Conservative” campaign to defeat all Conservative candidates. Mr. Westcott is dead in the cross hairs of the Premier' s campaign not only for the audacity of running for the Conservatives but a couple of years of brutal editorials in his publication and as a CBC radio commentator. Some have said this election is between Williams and Westcott, not with the Liberal or NDP candidates.
Both candidates have gotten a rough ride from their former colleagues in the first week of campaigning. It's seems that both have written nasty things in the past about their chosen (?) party and federal leaders that have raised questions over their decision to run for the parties they ended up with.
Mr. Westcott is well known for his hard line on Premier Danny Williams and the provincial government, but he has also said some bad things about Stephen Harper. (more from CBC). He got a mild grilling from CBC reporters who felt the questions, and rightfully so, had to be asked even if Mr. Westcott is well respected in the local journalism community.
…but his words were not as bad as what Mr. Cleary said about Jack Layton and the NDP in his past editorials. The Telegram was nice enough to dig up those editorials and fired the first shot the morning after Mr. Cleary's nomination win.
From The Telegram editorial section…
“Cheers: to bygones being bygones. Now, politics makes strange bedfellows, but it's more than fascinating that former Independent editor Ryan Cleary spent time last week considering running for the New Democrats. After all, in his columns, he's never had much good to say about the party. “The New Democrats are losers – there, I said it – a mainstream party that wouldn't win an election if Jackie Layton was given a 100-seat head start…. I'd have more respect for the NDP if they actually set out to win an election – instead of settling for spoiler.” Furthermore, “the NDP (are) content to cater to the small pocket of aging granolas and artsy fartsies in Town” and “are desperate in the dream department.” It's a regular theme: “The New Democrats are no more a provincial party than Water Street in downtown St. John's is a provincial highway. Lorraine Michael is no more a potential premier than John Hickey is a potential finance minister.” “Despite the backing of most of the major unions, the New Democrats – outside the aging granolas in east end St. John's and the union crowd in Labrador City – are a lame political duck…. Peg Norman is one of the few names bandied about as potential leadership material. If she had any sense she'd join the Liberals – at least then, if successful, she'd have 11 other losers to hang out with.” Yep. A political match made in heaven. Or else he hopes party members have short memories.”
The national press corp was in St. John's with NDP leader Jack Layton during the first week of the campaign. Not known for its gentle manner, they crucified Mr. Cleary.
It started with local reporters hijacking the national news agenda by asking the obvious of Jack Layton and his new candidate's views of the NDP and Newfoundland separatism during a morning campaign stop on a east end neighbourhood lawn. But then the big dogs smelled blood and latched on for the afternoon session at the university.
NDP message track was trashed, Mr. Cleary and and opinion of the NDP was now on the national stage. See Ryans First Scrum.
Do these former journalists, now political neophyte candidates, deserve such harsh treatment? Of course. Everyone must be accountable for their actions and answer for their views, past or present once they choose to run for public office. It is only through having to answer publicly that ones true honour and integrity can be judged. …and we wouldn't want people without honour and integrity running our country now would we?
Every candidate has to answer to the public. They all have to wear their past. Be in the town square or on national TV.
Of course, defenders of the candidates and the political process and the new strange political bedfellows all have to say the nice things and pretend everything has changed but will the foot soldiers forgive and forget? We won't know until the the voter turnout number talk on election day. You can lead a candidate to the party members but you can't make them vote.
…and lest you be too cynical, I did have a charming but battle hardened “political operative” tell me he, ” …sort of felt sorry for Cleary.”
This is a case history that should be taught in journalism schools. What you write will get shoved back down your throat eventually and often without the opportunity to chew…and sometimes by your “friends.”
Is it any wonder that Norm Doyle and Loyola Hearn looked so relaxed in Harbour Grace last week?