The NDP's former Newfoundland separatist -

The NDP’s former Newfoundland separatist

Ryan Cleary could be Jack Layton’s biggest caucus challenge

The wild  card

Andrew Vaughan/CP

Forget the NDP’s young Quebec caucus: Jack Layton’s biggest management problem when the House of Commons reconvenes may well be the newly elected MP from St. John’s South-Mount Pearl. After failing to win the suburban Newfoundland riding in 2008, Ryan Cleary astonished himself on election night by unseating Liberal incumbent Siobhan Coady by more than 7,000 votes. Making it all the more surprising is the fact that in his previous life as a journalist, Cleary called the NDP a bunch of “losers,” “a small pocket of aging granolas and artsy-fartsies,” and “a party that wouldn’t win an election if Jackie Layton was given a 100-seat head start.”

As the former editor-in-chief of the Independent, a St. John’s newspaper, and as an open-line radio host on the popular St. John’s station VOCM (Voice of the Common Man), Cleary also carved out a reputation as an unapologetic Newfoundland separatist. “I don’t want to seem ungrateful, but now that we’re rolling in the cash it may be time to consider breaking away from the country of Canada,” he wrote in May 2008, five months before hoisting the federal NDP banner for the first time. “If we’re teetering on the edge of economic independence anyway, why not go all the way?”

Today, Cleary, 44, pauses when asked if he still favours independence. “I do not consider myself a separatist,” he says finally. “There have been points when I was younger, when I was gung-ho in terms of separation. But that’s not what people want, and that’s not what I want.”

Visitors to his new office on Parliament Hill will likely see a photograph on the wall showing Cleary, in a tuxedo, accepting an award from then-governor general Adrienne Clarkson. In 2005, Cleary’s newspaper was a finalist for the Michener Award for public service journalism, for publishing a groundbreaking cost-benefit analysis that claimed, contrary to popular wisdom, that Newfoundland and Labrador had contributed more to Canada financially than it had received. The analysis included the usual measurement of taxes paid and transfer payments received, but also added up the billions earned from offshore oil projects, and the indirect revenues collected by Quebec from decades of access to cheap Labrador hydro power—a calculation that was disputed by many economists.

Cleary says he still believes Confederation has been a raw deal for his province, particularly because of the chokehold Quebec exerts over the transmission of hydroelectric power at Churchill Falls, Labrador, and because of what he calls the “annihilation” by federal bureaucrats of the once-great fishery. His personal mission in Ottawa, he says, is to seek a national energy policy that would liberalize electricity transmission, and to demand a judicial inquiry into the collapse of the cod fishery. “I’m going to be in the Conservative government’s face every single day that I’m in Ottawa in terms of fisheries issues,” he says. “This is what I’m used to doing as a newspaper journalist, as an open-line host. And I’m not going to change my style.”

Making friends with his new Quebec colleagues—the NDP now has 58 MPs from the province—might be tough considering that Cleary once said an independent Newfoundland would be free to tear up the 1968 contract that gives Hydro-Quebec cheap access to Churchill Falls power. As Edward Hollett, an influential St. John’s blogger pointed out, the New Democrats “can’t keep Ryan under wraps forever . . . this guy could be an accident waiting to happen.” Cleary isn’t worried. “I don’t think I have a big mouth. I just have something to say and I’m going to say it.”


The NDP’s former Newfoundland separatist

  1.  . I do not think that a person who researches and proves his point will be a challenge to Jack Layton.  He would be an asset.  When the facts are presented and they are undeniable what is there to honestly fight over.  If anything, Ryan Cleary will bring more legitimacy to the NDP. 

  2. Good for you Ryan – don’t change a thing about your style. Too many people go into politics for the right reasons only to be reigned in by “the system”. Fight the good fight for Newfoundland and Labrador! 

  3.  Ed Hollett is a big mouth and the best in the Country for finding issues with everyone an everything around him. Atleast Cleary gots guts to step out in the crowd and not hide behind a keyboard like Hollett does! I wouldn’t call him a blogger – call him a complainer!

  4.  Sounds like Macleans is scared of Cleary!

  5. Go Ryan, go! 

  6. Ryan Cleary has a mandate from the people. That is the bottom line.

  7.  Hollett is far from influential. He writes a blog – nothing more, nothing less.

  8. This “news” is further evidence that aging fartsies can make news out of nothing. Good luck to Mr. Cleary.

  9. Yup, it will only be a matter of time before Mr. Cleary  brings  back the bad “Newfie” joke.  He’s not much on depth and breadth of knowledge but he knows how to make a noise.  I just don’t think it’s a noise Layton or Newfoundland and Labrador wants to hear.  I just hope he doesn’t do too much damage to the province before he is voted out in 4 years..  

  10. There is one simple fact that Macleans misses.  In fact it can be said of a lot of the Toronto-centric media in this country.  Newfoundland and Labrador has a strong independent spirit.  That is not to say separatists, simply that our home thinks of itself in many ways as our own country because in fact we are just a few decades away from that historical fact.  The strong spirit of (small “i”) independance that people like Ryan have fostered is not to be feared.  That being said the article shoots itself in the food by closing with a quote from “blogger” Ed Hollet.  Ed is simply a guy who used to be someone in Ottawa and now has a blogger account as a soapbox of limited appeal.  His small inner circle have a habit of running as Liberals and failing dismally in the attempt.  Ryan doesn’t need to please Macleans, he has proven to have overwhelming support from right here where I sit, in St. John’s South Mount Pearl. 

  11. I believe the NDP will surprise a lot of  people and won’t collapse because it has a few opinionated M.P.’s What
    people really voted for was someone they could trust who would represent
    their issues, like jobs, health care and a compassionate government.
    These are the great strengths of the N.D.P.

  12. Ed Hollett is hardly influential in Newfoundland. Check your sources. This from the same magazine that published Siobhan Coady was one of the top MP’s to watch… watch her fail into political oblivion.

  13. As someone who has voted CCF/NDP for nearly 50 years, I have always admired (among other things) the view from the left of the social contract which is most beneficial to Canadians. Part of that contract is a stance which favours reconciliation, peace-making, respectful treatment of those with whom we differ.
    Ryan Cleary may think he is simply a man with an opinion which he is entitled to voice. There may be, however, a much less benign side to someone like him, especially in the context of a social democratic party like the NDP.
    Name-calling and disrespectful treatment has driven many vulnerable people even to such extremes as suicide. As a teacher, now nearing retirement, I am all too aware of the effect of this type of inexcusable cruelty on teenagers. Ryan Cleary, thinking that he is merely exercising his freedom of speech, gives a fresh appearance of legitimacy to this type of deplorable and offensive behaviour. While I am of course not worried about Jack Layton’s ability to withstand this type of discourse, I think the example in a wider social context is completely beyond the pale. It is the the top of a slope which, if followed to the bottom (so to speak), leads to the most despicable violence, exploitation, and destruction. I hope this kind of loud-mouthed thoughtlessness finds absolutely no place in NDP discussions, and that the caucus, if necessary, deals firmly with Mr. Cleary so as to state the foregoing loudly and clearly.