The Crosbies are a revered, political family in Newfoundland and Labrador – and so, when Ches Crosbie, the lawyer and Rhodes Scholar son of John, the former Mulroney cabinet minister and colourful politician, was rejected by the Stephen Harper Conservatives as a candidate for the coming federal election, all hell broke loose on the Rock.
The lines lit up on VOCM's (Voice of the Common Man) open-line shows – and stayed lit for days – after news director Fred Hutton broke the story on Canada Day. Call-in shows are a staple on the island where politics is a serious business, and always entertaining.
"Just when you thought it couldn't get weirder, it did, when a Crosbie isn't allowed to run for the Conservative Party of Canada and nobody really knows why," Mr. Hutton says.
Ches Crosbie is not revealing the reasons for his dismissal and the federal Tories aren't talking publicly, fuelling speculation on the eve of a federal election in which polls are showing a dramatic shift in the political landscape.
The Harper Conservatives are not well-liked on the island, and this latest event is not helping. The discontent over the Tories is a hangover from former premier Danny Williams's "anyone but Conservative" campaign launched during the 2008 election. He called Mr. Harper a "fraud" and accused him of reneging on a promise to honour a deal excluding off-shore resource revenues from the equalization formula.
Mr. Harper's team lost the three federal seats it held and was shut out of the province. Seven years later, there is not one Conservative MP in any of the island's seven seats. The Liberals have four MPs; the NDP have two and there is one independent, Scott Andrews, who left the Liberal caucus over allegations of sexual misconduct.
Clearly, not all is going well for the Liberals, either. For months after Justin Trudeau won the leadership, the Liberals were riding high in the polls in the Atlantic. Now, they are sliding and the NDP is gaining ground.
They were hoping to pick up seats in the province. Their star candidate is Seamus O'Regan, the former CTV broadcaster and close friend of Mr. Trudeau, who is running against NDP incumbent Ryan Cleary in the riding of St. John's South-Mount Pearl.
Mr. Cleary won about 49 per cent of the vote in the 2011 election and beat the incumbent Liberal, Mr. O'Regan notes. "I knew this was going to be hard fought," he says. "In the beginning the numbers were exaggeratedly high only because I was well known. But now that veneer is off, that sparkle is gone and now you have to prove yourself."
But the big question remains what will happen with Mr. Andrews's seat in the riding of Avalon, where Ches Crosbie hoped to run. It is considered the Conservatives' best shot at returning an MP to Ottawa. Mr. Andrews, who was first elected in 2008, told The Globe he is still considering whether to run as an independent and will make up his mind in August. If he does, the thinking is that he could bleed votes away from the Liberals, benefiting the Tories.
However, this latest Conservative imbroglio has further tarnished the Harper Tory brand, according to some island observers, including Mr. Crosbie's father, John, who after decades of supporting the federal Conservatives will not in this election: "If I believe what I'm told by a huge number of people, they've stolen any chance they had of getting a seat here at all," he says. "People are shocked and astounded by the effrontery of it without any reasonable reason being given. It's been very unpopular for them here in Newfoundland but they don't seem to care about that."
Ches Crosbie announced his intention to run in Avalon last December. He was the only potential candidate (the Tories have yet to find another one).
In a recent interview at his St. John's law office, Mr. Crosbie said he was "surprised" by the party's decision and that he disagrees with the two reasons given him. He refuses to reveal them, citing confidentiality.
There is much speculation. First, Mr. Crosbie appeared in a play – a spoof of Shakespeare's Macbeth – to raise money for a local theatre in which he also spoofed the Prime Minister.
A senior Conservative official says the play wasn't helpful but it was minor compared with a $500 donation Mr. Crosbie gave to Justin Trudeau's Liberal leadership bid in 2012. The official characterized that as a "big deal" and a "major reason" for his disqualification.
Mr. Crosbie defends his contribution. In an e-mail, he noted: "The Conservative Party believes true democracy involves vigorous participation in the affairs of the country." He says, too, that he has friends in all parties and believes in supporting the democratic process.
His father believes that the split between the former Progressive Conservative party, which he represented, and the Harper style of conservatism, which is more to the right of the spectrum, may have something to do with his son's rejection.
Ches Crosbie suggests it has something to do with control and that to win as a Tory in the province, a candidate couldn't run on the "Harper brand," but on the merits of the individual candidate.
"I have a reputation for being bold and independent," he says. "Anyone who has an independent mind is going to favour some aspects of the party platform more than others. … Principally, I support the economic thrust of the Conservative Party."
But, he added: "When you join a political party you don't join a religion."