Thursday, 19 May 2016

The Great Defection

The Great Defection

By: Ryan Young

Some may call Paul Lane an opportunist, maybe even a political pariah, but no one should doubt his courage in the light of his announcement yesterday that he would be voting against the budget. Traditionally when a member of the government votes against a confidence motion such as a budget, they either resign or are booted from caucus. If he does not resign, he puts Dwight Ball in a very tough position. If Paul Lane is allowed to vote against the budget and remain in caucus, many others who toed the party line, perhaps at the expense of their future election prospects, will be very upset with the Premier and his leadership. Worst case scenario, it could lead to an all-out caucus revolt.

Now of course this is not the first time that Lane has been at odds with his own party. In January 2014 he resigned from his position as a backbencher with the former PC government due to a lack of confidence in the leadership of then premier Kathy Dunderdale.  The answer he gave for his decision then was much the same as the one he is giving now. His constituents told him that this was what he should do, and he listened. One can question the motives of Mr. Lane and others like him who cross the floor, but an MHA’s ultimate responsibility is to the people of their district. In that regard Paul Lane may be the most successful politician we have ever had. Lane hasn’t gone anywhere yet, but if he does cross the floor he will be the first person to ever do so twice. I don’t know if that is a good record or a bad one, but if nothing else it proves that Paul Lane is not afraid to go his own way.

So what does it all mean in the grand scheme of things? At this point it is too early to tell for sure, but we can expect that the Liberals will move to vote on the budget sooner rather than later. Paul Lane will be propped up as a champion of the people and be paraded in the media as a hero. If the other backbench MHA’s who are wearing down under the pressure see him getting so much praise, they might consider crossing the floor themselves. I have heard rumblings from several insiders who say that several MHA's have been weighing their options. If the budget vote does not happen fast, there may be more Liberal casualties as a result of this defection.

So where does Paul Lane go now? Back to the Tories may seem like a logical fit at first glance, but I don’t think that will happen. Even though he could probably un-burn that bridge, the current PC caucus does not seem like a natural fit for Lane. The NDP is also unlikely but perhaps not out of the realm of possibility. They would be certainly more than willing to accept him into the fold, but doing so may make it harder to get re-elected based on recent NDP results in Mount Pearl. More likely, he will sit as an independent, at least for now. There is no reason for him to rush his decision. There is no obvious successor to power as was the case when he left the PC caucus for the Liberals. By sitting as an independent he can buy himself time to do some soul-searching and gauge the will of the people in his district before making a final decision.

With a grassroots movement for change gaining momentum daily, Lane might be wise to wait it out and sit as an independent house insider for the ever growing numbers of people who are getting fed up with our revolving door party system. The pushback from the people for change has never been so hard and I wouldn’t be surprised to see a new, legitimate challenger appear before the next election.  If Paul Lane is really a man of his people, he might decide to go down that road and become a true champion of the grassroots. Anyone who has followed Paul’s career would know that he has always been a supporter of the “little guy.” An independent voice of the people in the House of Assembly might just be the perfect fit for him.  In any case, the voters of Mount Pearl South will not forget his decision to listen. They will likely remember his decision most at the voting box, just as they did last fall.

Finally, what does this mean for the Liberal Party? They will will pass it off as being no big deal to lose one member on such a controversial vote. They may even get away with it as long as Lane is the only one. If others start crossing with him, however, Dwight Ball might have a bigger problem on his hands than he bargained for. It would be unprecedented and extremely unlikely for him to lose the other ten MHA’s it would take to lose the government on a confidence vote, but once the floodgates open there is no telling what might happen. This is #nlpoli after all. The most likely scenario is that the Liberals might lose one or two more members before the dust settles on budget 2016, but ultimately most will continue to toe the party line and the budget will pass. If they had all remained united, the party might have even have been able to overcome this negative budget before the next election came around. Unfortunately, however, Paul Lane’s defection will serve as a constant reminder to the voters of how many MHA’s failed to listen and voted in favor of the budget.

*Author's Note (4:55pm May 19th, 2016) : Since this post was published, Paul Lane has been removed from the Liberal caucus and will now sit as an Independent MHA. For more visit: