It’s difficult to comprehend how a politician seemingly in such perfect harmony with the populist political zeitgeist eight months ago could have become so cymbal-clangingly tone deaf so quickly.
Darrell Dexter got himself elected premier by channelling Coffee-at-the-Tims Everyman. He was like us, only smarter. We could — and did — trust him.
We forgave him for lying to us during the election campaign because … well, we wanted to be lied to. It helped get us over the emotional hump of turfing out a government that deserved to go in order to vote for a bunch of untried, are-they-really-socialist New Democrats.
That the current MLA expenses excesses have become such a sticking scandal shows just how badly Dexter has stumbled.
When the auditor general’s report broke in January, Dexter could — rightly — have argued he’d already begun reforming the system, that his party’s fall legislative package — which banned corporate and union donations, eliminated over-generous allowances for departing and defeated MLAs and sliced computer expenses for members — was a strong first step. And more change was on the way…
The fact the premier was out of town — on vacation, at the Olympics, at a premier’s meeting in Washington — as the messy stories seeped, spilled and ultimately flooded into the public prints made for awkward optics.
Even that could have been managed. We don’t expect our premier to sit, quill in hand, puzzling over the minutiae of legislation. He’d given the orders; we could judge the results when the legislation was tabled. Besides, his response was the correct one. I wasn’t the premier who started the system, but I will be the one to put an end to it.
But then came news the NDP had failed to return $45,000 in illicit union contributions Dexter himself — during the dying days of last June’s campaign — claimed had been returned.
And then it emerged that Dexter — whose expensive tastes in electronics and a briefcase raised eyebrows — had been billing the public purse for his $3,800 annual bar society fees.
Pre-premier Dexter would have immediately understood how that would play down at Tims, mea culpa-ed and moved on. The New Darrell tried to justify it all. By the time he finally gave up and gave in Wednesday, he’d used up all the political capital he’d accumulated over a decade in opposition.
Just in time to deliver a very bad-news budget that will require all the political capital he’s squandered — and much more.
We are in for interesting times.
– Stephen Kimber, the Rogers Communications Chair in Journalism at the University of Kings College, is the author of eight books.