Former Tory cabinet minister Shawn Skinner is still keeping his powder dry, but he sounds an awful lot like somebody who’s getting ready to run.
Skinner has been talked about as one of the potential frontrunners for the PC Party leadership for the past couple weeks — ever since Premier Kathy Dunderdale announced her resignation in January.
“I don’t mind sharing with you that I’m very, very seriously considering this,” Skinner told The Telegram. “I’m just waiting for the party executive to tell us, sort of, the general parameters.”
Skinner said the big thing he’s looking to see is what sort of spending limits the party will put in place.
Under the current PC Party constitution, leadership candidates can spend a maximum of $200,000 during the campaign.
“I’m hearing it’s going to go up; I have no idea how much. I hope it doesn’t go up too much, because I think it’d put it out of reach for some people to be able to spend to that limit,” Skinner said.
During the recent Liberal leadership race, the three front runners were all independently wealthy; two of the candidates spent more than $400,000 on the race. Dwight Ball, who ultimately won the race, spent $312,000.
In all three cases, most of the money came out of their own pocket.
The one Tory leadership candidate who has formally declared that he’s running is also pretty wealthy; Bill Barry owns the Barry Group processing business, with fish plants all across Newfoundland.
Skinner said that he wants to be a competitive candidate, but he’s worried about running up a serious debt if he doesn’t win.
“I think $200,000 is realistic. I think I could raise $200,000. I don’t know if I could raise $400,000 or $500,000,” he said.
One thing that won’t be affecting his decision, though, is who else is running.
Some other potential candidates have signalled that they’re waiting to see who else is in the race before they make a final decision, but Skinner said he’s happy to go up against whoever else is running.
“I’m hoping there will be four or five or six people in this race. I think the more the merrier. I think it would make for a spirited race,” he said. “To be honest with you, James, I’d be disappointed if it was only, say, two people. I think that would be a bit of a negative for the party.”
Skinner said he’s not discounting some of the other good potential candidates in the field, but he said he’s confident about his political abilities.
“I don’t mean that in a boastful or an uncomplimentary way towards the other candidates,” he said. “I’m encouraging others to run. All I’m saying is I that I think I;m going to be as good as anybody there. I’ll be just as good an alternative.
Skinner was first elected as an MHA in 2003, and served in cabinet for several years.
During the 2011 election, Skinner was defeated by New Democrat Gerry Rogers.
Since losing his seat, Skinner has been a regular political commentator, especially on CBC television; he’s been occasionally critical of former premier Kathy Dunderdale’s government, and some of the decisions she made while in office.
Skinner told The Telegram that he has three or four key ideas on how the Tories can turn the page, but he’s reticent to say too much just yet.
“I don't think the PC Party has done a lot wrong,” he said, “I think there are some areas that they need to improve upon, and I think there are some new directions, new initiatives that we need to undertake, and I’ve been talking to people about those.”
He said that through the leadership campaign — if he runs — he hopes the party can win back some of its former supporters.
“Ultimately, the prize here is not winning a leadership. To be honest with you, running for the leadership is only step one. What I’m running for is to form the next government,” he said. “I think there are a number of people who may have felt a little bit distant from the party in recent times, who I think we can bring back with some good policy and some good discussion around where this province and where this party needs to go.”
The party rules committee is expected to make an announcement on the specific rules of the race within the next week or two.
The delegated leadership convention will be held at the St. John’s Convention Centre on the weekend of July 4-5.