Rodney's first year (Feb 11, 2007)

The Rodney question for the rest of us

The question isn’t whether Rodney MacDonald can recover from his first-year reputation free fall and still be the premier of all he surveys the next time Nova Scotians visit the polls. He can.

In the three-way, buzzer-beater game of percentage-points politics that our elections have become — with Darrell Dexter leading a mainstream New Democratic Party that has a lock on metro but conjures visions of galloping socialist hordes in rural reaches of the province, and with no one yet leading a Liberal party that is still rehab from (and paying penance for) its last bad leadership choice — almost anything is possible.

Which may explain why there were so few overt challenges to Rodney MacDonald’s abysmally failed first year as leader during this weekend’s Progressive Conservative annual meeting.

Getting rid of a sitting premier — as Nova Scotia Liberals discovered when they forced out reformist premier John Savage 10 year ago — is, at best, a messy business. And there is no guarantee — as the Liberals also discovered by choosing visionless backbench federal MP Russell MacLellan as his successor — that the leader’s replacement will be any better, or more successful.

Tories with long memories might also recall what happened to party dissidents after they staged a failed coup against John Buchanan when he was still just the opposition leader. After Buchanan won the 1978 election, his challengers paid the price.

So the real question on the first anniversary of Rodney MacDonald’s election as leader of the PCs and premier of the rest of us isn’t for the Tories. They are saddled with the devil they chose.

It’s for the rest of us.

Are we prepared for more of what Premier Rodney MacDonald really means to our province — which is to say a return to the bad old, highways-to-nowhere, electric-toilet-seats, secret-trust-funds days of John Buchanan? Minus Buchanan’s avuncular charm, of course, and the secret smile that seemed designed to let everyone know Buchanan was in on the joke too.

Rodney MacDonald doesn’t seem to be a bad guy. One on one, in fact, he can be charming, the kind of person you could imagine sharing a few beers with on a cold Friday afternoon after a long week’s work. His friends will tell you he’s energetic, determined, a hard worker — not to mention a lot more fun in real life than he is his earnest public persona.

The problem is that none of that adds up to political leadership.

Rodney MacDonald wanted to be premier for the same reason school kids want to be class president. Because…

The unfortunate reality is that — amid MacDonald’s moronically one-note message tracks and his empty catch phrases about “putting families first” and the “new Nova Scotia,” — there simply doesn’t seem to be any “there” there.

Which makes it all too easy for MacDonald to bend with whatever are the prevailing winds — on Sunday shopping, or gasoline regulation, or energy conservation, or whatever the next crisis turns out to be — rather that take a principled stand for or against.

It also makes it easy for him be the captive of his advisors, who too often have agendas of their own. Which may explain the Ernie Fage debacle. And the Heather Foley Melvin fiasco.

When you don’t see any larger purpose to governing than to figure out how to get yourself re-elected next time around, it becomes way too easy to make the kind of indiscriminate, not carefully considered, chicken-in-every-pot-every-Thursday promises to pave this back road, or fund that Commonwealth Games, or whatever else seems easy this week. Such decisions almost inevitably lead to more troubles down the road. Remember John Buchanan’s economic legacy? Or the ethical backsliding that was the legacy of Russell MacLellan’s brief tenure?

Is that really what we want for Nova Scotia?

Stephen Kimber, the Rogers Communications Chair in Journalism at the University of King’s College, is an award-winning author of five nonfiction books and a novel, Reparations.

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