No one from caucus steps up
When the dust finally settled around lunchtime Friday, there were three contenders for the PC Party leadership still standing — all three from western Newfoundland, and none of them members of the Tory caucus.
Corner Brook businessman Frank Coleman got into the race late Thursday night, and — just hours before the deadline — retired naval officer and failed federal candidate Wayne Bennett submitted his nomination papers.
They join Bill Barry, another Corner Brook businessman, who threw his hat into the ring weeks ago.
For weeks, there have been rumblings within political circles that former premier Danny Williams is backing Coleman’s leadership bid, and with Williams’ endorsement comes a big chunk of the current caucus support.
Municipal Affairs Minister Steve Kent, the only member of the Progressive Conservative government who came close to running, downplayed those rumours.
“I’ve talked to Mr. Williams numerous times over the last number of weeks,” Kent said. “In fact, he encouraged me to run if I had a desire to do so. I know that Danny understands the importance of having a good, spirited race and I’m thrilled that he’s taking an interest in the process.”
But after Coleman announced that he was running for the leadership around 11 p.m. Thursday, Kent issued a statement to the media after midnight saying that he isn’t running, and he’s endorsing Coleman’s leadership bid.
See CONVENTION, page A2
Former natural resources minister Shawn Skinner — the other heavyweight potential leadership contender — also announced that he won’t be getting into the race after Coleman made his announcement.
“I was doing extensive phone calling and talking to pParty members as well as cabinet and caucus,” Skinner said in an email.
“Bottom line is I felt that the level of support I would need to enter the race was not there for me. People were waiting on Mr. Coleman and I felt that he was the first choice of many I spoke with. They were looking for someone outside the Caucus, a new face and he was that choice for them.”
Coleman would not speak to The Telegram Friday afternoon; a spokeswoman said he’ll hold a news conference early next week to launch his campaign.
But plenty of people were willing to speak about Coleman, including St. John’s Ward 1 councillor Danny Breen, who announced Friday morning that he’s hoping to run for the Tories in the district of Virginia Waters.
Premier Tom Marshall will need to call a byelection in the district by the end of April to replace former premier Kathy Dunderdale, who resigned her seat in the legislature earlier this month.
Breen said his decision to run was partially influenced by Coleman’s announcement that he’d seek the leadership.
“You know, I have a lot of respect for Frank Coleman,” he said. “He’s a good, solid individual with a good community record and, obviously, a great business background. So yeah, him going forward was certainly something that I was hoping would happen.”
The third contender in the PC party leadership race is Bennett, a retired naval officer and town councillor in Howley, in western Newfoundland.
Of the three candidates, Bennett is the only one who’s held any sort of elected office.
Bennett is probably best known within political circles for starting the Newfoundland and Labrador First Party in 2008 to run candidates in the federal election.
Bennett ran for the party, and after they didn’t win any seats, he took over the leadership. After he took on the leadership, the party was decertified by Elections Canada because it couldn’t bring together 250 signed declarations of membership.
Bennett said he wants to radically change the way the PC party does politics.
“We’ve got to stop being hyper-partisan. We’ve got to stop doing polls on the Internet, attacking other people, attacking our own members,” he said. “We’ve got to bring some civility back to politics in this province.”
The party has not checked over Bennett and Coleman’s nomination forms; they likely won’t be certified as approved candidates until some time next week.
Party members will gather in
St. John’s on the first weekend in July for a delegated convention to pick the new leader.