When the COVID-19 pandemic began to seriously impact Canada's East Coast in March, a lot of things got put on hold.
Included in these postponements were political leadership races for the federal Conservative Party and the Liberal Party in Newfoundland and Labrador, which also entails selecting the next premier in this province. As these races begin to ramp up this month and more of our society opens up, it will be interesting to see if political parties are able to adjust to the necessary changes brought about by the pandemic or whether there is an attempt to return to politics as normal.
For the Conservative Party, the most recent update was a court ruling that overturned the decision to bar controversial candidate Jim Karahalios from running due to alleged racist comments because proper procedures were not followed. After the ruling, he was subsequently barred again by the appropriate officials within the party, meaning that nothing had really changed. It appears to leave the field open for the two established candidates - Peter MacKay and Erin O'Toole - to fight it out for the leadership as the party attempts to play to its base while smoothing over the more radical elements in order to appeal to a broader range of Canadians. There are no substantive changes and we'll have to wait and see how the campaign is impacted by the pandemic.
In Newfoundland, there was recent discussion around re-opening the nomination process for the Liberal leadership to allow Health Minister John Haggie, or other candidates who may now be interested, to enter the race.
Haggie has gained much support and respect over his conduct during the pandemic and had indicated he was now open to entering the race if it was possible. The leadership within the party denied it, sticking rigidly to the original process, which has two candidates that have never been elected to public office running to become the next premier. Such rigidity doesn't seem to recognize that the world has changed and the flexibility in how we run our society that has come about because of the pandemic might also be helpful within the political process as well.
One change that has been forced upon all of us, including politicians, is the need for physical distancing. The large group gatherings that are normally part of the political process will not happen and means connecting virtually with one's political base has become a critical element of success in politics. This process was already underway before the pandemic but is now likely to accelerate.
Our legislatures and parliament have had meetings with only a fraction of those elected taking part and virtual meetings of committees have become the new normal. I would hope this process is retained once and if the pandemic ends, as it reduces air travel and should save taxpayer money in the long run. There will be times when our elected members need to be together to vote on legislation but much of their work can be done virtually.
Sadly, recent decisions by the major federal parties point to a continuation of the same old routine. With the exception of the Bloq Quebecois, the other four federal parties have applied for and received the economic benefit package for workers in their parties. While I can appreciate that the parties are less likely to be able to pay their workers due to decreased donations and that the individuals who work for them are being impacted, the optics of taxpayer money being used to pay for workers promoting partisan politics doesn't feed a narrative that things have changed much.
What's clear from this pandemic is that there has been a massive impact on our economy and we will need to find ways to cut costs moving forward; political parties should lead by example in this regard rather than being the last to feel the economic impact.
Brian Hodder works in the field of mental health and addictions. He can be reached at email@example.com.