Column for June 18, 2006

Baillie, Batherson blather

while Rodney burns

If you want to know why the Conservatives managed to lose this election while slightly increasing their share of the popular vote and winning the most seats, you need only rewind and replay the what-me-worry, see-me-smile, that’s-me-still-smiling election-night blather of two of its key backroom operatives — Jamie Baillie, the ghost of governments past, and Rob Batherson, the puppetmeister of campaign present.

At various times during CBC-TV’s broadcast of Tuesday night’s election results, journalists asked Baillie and Batherson to explain what had gone wrong with the Tory campaign. Something had. The Conservatives did not choose to call this election at this time in order to eliminate the advantage (with one seat vacant and one independent MLA voting with the government) of an effective majority; elect even fewer MLAs than they had going in; and allow the NDP to neatly position itself as a government in waiting.

With the polls closed, it would have been easy enough for Baillie and Batherson to be candid about the miscalculations and missteps the party had made in seeking a quick mandate for its new leader, and how it had compounded that screw-up by keeping Rodney MacDonald on such a tight verbal leash he often seemed out of his depth answering what-day-is-it? queries.

They could have trusted viewers with adult talk. While legitimately pointing out that the party had increased its share of the popular vote, they could have acknowledged tactical mistakes and promised to learn from them, thus ultimately making the party worthy of the majority voters denied it this time.

They could have. But they didn’t. Instead, they spooled out more vacuous, I’m-so-proud, isn’t-life-grand, never-answer-the-question campaign spin, which, in many ways, is what got the Tories into trouble in the first place.

If, on the other hand, you wanted to know why the New Democrats managed to win this campaign while losing the election, you could cue up CTV’s election-night interview with NDP chief of staff Dan O’Connor.

Why, veteran reporter Rick Grant quite reasonably wanted to know, couldn’t the NDP ever jump that final hurdle and form a government?

O’Connor could have ignored the question, as Baillie and Batherson did, and babbled on about breakthroughs in the rural mainland. Instead, he… wait for it… answered the question. Thoughtfully. As if Grant and his viewers might be interested in the answer. Which, according to O’Connor, was that the NDP had shot itself in the foot in Cape Breton 25 years ago, and had still not fully recovered. In 1981, then-NDP leader Jeremy Akerman abandoned party and principles to take a job with Buchanan’s Tories, devastating its core of support there for more than a generation. That O’Connor himself would open that old wound and — worse — acknowledge it still festered would probably get him drummed out of the Tory backroom brigade.

But O’Connor’s answer had the advantage of making it appear that the NDP respects the intelligence of voters. Which may explain why more voters responded to its message this time. And why Baillie and Batherson may have their work cut out if the hope to save Rodney MacDonald’s government from itself — and them.


Some final random election reflections:

Even though Bill Black

has to be disillusioned with electoral politics after having lost a Tory leadership many believe he should have won and a seat in the legislature most pundits said was his, I hope doesn’t give up. Nova Scotia could use more of his common sense and even his occasional bull-in-the-china-shop approach to issues…

The Sore Loser Award goes to defeated Waverley-Fall River-Beaverbank Tory MLA Gary Hines

, who not only refused to congratulate his opponent but also ominously hinted his Tories might now cut off the riding for voting the wrong way…

The Liberals’ best hope for a quick recovery from last week’s electoral debacle would be to talk Danny Graham

into taking the job again. Graham, you may recall, quit the leadership two years ago to be with his wife, who died recently of cancer. While he still has a young family to care for and may not be willing to return to the rough and tumble of politics so soon, his presence could instantly transform the party from laughingstock back to legitimate.

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