The political leadership of Newfoundland and Labrador remains in a complicated position, to say the least.
After last week’s provincial election, the Liberals have 20 seats, the Progressive Conservatives have 15, the New Democratic Party has three and there are two independents in the House of Assembly.
The first order of business is electing a Speaker for the legislature, and that’s not going to be easy.
Should the Speaker come from the Liberal side of the House, it puts them down to 19 seats. The Speaker supports the “status quo” of the legislature — therefore he or she would support the government in any tie-breaking vote. The much-preferred option for the Liberals would be to take a Speaker from the opposition side of the House, where independents Eddie Joyce and Paul Lane sit.
For his part, Lane has repeated again and again that he does not want the Speaker’s chair and won’t make any special deals to benefit himself in the coming negotiations.
“I have asked for zero – with a capital Z – Zero for myself. I’m not looking for anything,” Lane said.
“I am not interested in, well, it’s a lie to say I’m not interested. I’d love to be Speaker, who wouldn’t? But, I’m not prepared to be Speaker. To be Speaker would do two things: a) it would hand the majority government to the Liberals, and b) it would effectively muzzle me. I’m not prepared to have either of those two things happen.”
The “muzzle” refers to the non-partisan role of the Speaker. The position is more to maintain the orderly business of the House than to act as a politician.
Lane says he’s not going out of his way to support the Tories, either.
“I have no intention of joining Mr. Crosbie in his quest to have anyone’s head on a platter or anything like that. I think that the people of Newfoundland and Labrador, I don’t think they want another election any time soon,” he said.
“I think this could be an opportunity for us to actually work together. That’s what I hope to achieve.”
Independent MHA Eddie Joyce could not be reached for comment on Wednesday, but has previously stated he does not intend to re-join the Liberal caucus. He could still be in the running for Speaker, or some such arrangement, but the Liberals are tight-lipped as negotiations continue.
A request for an interview with Premier Dwight Ball was declined on Wednesday, with the expectation of an interview or news conference in the coming days.
NDP Leader Alison Coffin says negotiations have not really started between the NDP and either other party in terms of where they fit into the picture. Should the Liberals secure support from the third party, it would go a long way to stabilizing their hold on power. But Coffin says she’s not going to throw her party’s priorities out the window for direct access to power.
“I don’t think any New Democrat is at all interested in being a member of the Liberal cabinet. I can say that with a great deal of confidence. Certainly, we do recognize that the stability of our economy, of our society, is absolutely vital,” said Coffin.
“We recognize the importance of not destabilizing government. I’m pretty sure everyone does not want to have an election again, a new election. There’s lots of good reasons why it’s very important for us to work together.”
But then there’s the matter of recounts, which complicates things even further.
On Wednesday, Elections Newfoundland and Labrador formally posted notice of a judicial recount for the district of Labrador West, where winning NDP candidate Jordan Browne got just five more votes than incumbent Liberal cabinet minister Graham Letto.
Elections Newfoundland and Labrador says 26 votes were rejected in the district, eight of which were special ballots. Elections Newfoundland and Labrador typically has good reason to not count a ballot — if the ballot is unclear, improperly completed, etc. — but if a judge admits the discounted ballots, Labrador West could change, and a Liberal majority could be on the horizon.
The Liberals also have until May 27 to request recounts in the districts of Bonavista (where Liberal Neil King lost by 45 votes to Progressive Conservative Craig Pardy) and Stephenville-Port au Port (where Progressive Conservative Tony Wakeham defeated Liberal John Finn by 31 votes). A request for comment on either race was not returned by deadline.
And then, there’s PC Leader Ches Crosbie.
On Wednesday, Crosbie held a news conference to walk back a “passionate” speech he gave on election night, where he suggested Ball’s head would be “on a platter” within a year.
“I’ve had the benefit of almost a week of reflection. What I said on Thursday night was in the passion of the moment and also in the face of the unclarity of the circumstances, the ambiguity of having a government with only a plurality,” Crosbie said.
“I’m going to assume now, although it hasn’t happened yet, that the Liberals will find a way to have a working majority. We can assist them in enabling the business of the province to get done in the interest of the province.”
Crosbie says he spoke with Ball on Saturday morning to congratulate him on the election result. Crosbie says the conversation was “cordial enough.”
“We all know, I think, every one of us elected to this legislature recognize that the public does not want another election any time soon,” Crosbie said.
“The public wants us, collectively, all of us in the legislature, to fulfil our duty to ensure that the business of the province gets conducted and that good government is delivered.”
If the Liberals are unsuccessful in their first attempt to gain the confidence of the legislature (ensuring at least 21 votes of support), it will be up to Crosbie to try his hand at forming a government. With independents against joining the Tory caucus and the NDP at least initially remaining distinct, the Tories will have a hard time getting the support of the legislature should they have a crack at it.
If no one succeeds, Dwight Ball will have some more driving to do.