By James McLeod
By Diane Crocker
TC Media—CORNER BROOK
Frank Coleman will be the province’s next premier, after his rival PC party leadership contender stunned the political world by dropping out of the race without notice.
But when he spoke to The Telegram Friday, the premier-in-waiting was still counting on somebody else to tell him what to do.
“I’m going to wait for some direction from the (PC party) executive. I don’t want to kind of get in anybody’s face on Day 1,” Coleman said. “I don’t want that to sound like I’m not willing. I’m certainly willing to do what is required of me at this point, but I’m not trying to elbow anybody aside earlier than what the party wants.”
The leadership race was supposed to take place over the next few months, culminating in a leadership convention in St. John’s in early July.
But in the early hours of Thursday morning, Coleman’s only opponent, Bill Barry, sent an email to media saying members of the party weren’t willing to listen to his message, and the Tory caucus was overwhelmingly not on his side.
“It’s less than interesting for me to play against a stacked deck,” Barry wrote. “Bottom line: my heart is no longer in this process. I am NOT a status quo guy. Change, renewal and reality need to be the basis of our future provincial agenda.”
Not a race
“Obviously, you know it’s not one particular thing, but it was a recognition in my own mind that the race wasn’t really a race,” Barry said in an interview with The Western Star.
“I just chose to recognize that the leader has been selected by the party insiders.”
Barry said those insiders have a right to present their own rules.
“But if they’re going to do that, why have a convention?” he asked. “If the determination is going be made before the debate happens, and before an event happens and people are going to all head in one particular direction, why go through the process? It seems disingenuous to me.
“No matter how it unfolded for me over the last three months I just reached a point where I felt that the decision for who the new leader was going to be was actually already made.”
To continue in the race, he said, would be like participating in a sham.
“I’m not into that kind of stuff.”
He also pointed to flaws in the process as leaving him feeling uncomfortable. In particular delegate selection, which is something he said from the getgo he wouldn’t participate in.
“Some of the delegate selection processes that I attended were not democratic in nature. The people who were going to be chosen as delegates were selected before the doors even opened,” he said. “I really don’t like the process and I don’t expect to ever see a delegated convention process in Newfoundland ever again. I think this is old style and I don’t think it works well.”
Barry said he could have gotten beyond some things.
“If I felt we were actually going to a convention where there would be a free and open vote by all delegates and that the decision of — I call it the party insiders — wasn’t already made.”
He said the decision wasn’t made by everybody, but he described it as a numbers game and said the chances of him being successful in terms of winning were slim.
As for what’s next, Barry was clear in saying he thinks that Coleman is the premier.
“He’s the only one left in the race,” he said. “Premier (Tom) Marshall has already said that he will be stepping down so I assume that Frank will be stepping up.”
Barry said he has no negative feelings.
“I’m not offended by the outcome in any way. I know Frank well and I’m sure he’s anxious to get in there and go to work.
“I wish him well and I wish the province well.”
So for Barry it’s back to business.
“It’s not retirement,” he said with a laugh. “I’ve already had a full morning so far this morning.”
Will he consider running in the next provincial election? Barry said he hasn’t given it any thought.
Memorial University political science professor Kelly Blidook said that by stepping out of the race, Barry has robbed the party of its chance for renewal, and hurt the Progressive Conservatives in the process.
“It started out looking like a sham. It looks even more like one now,” Blidook said. “It’s a party that’s preaching renewal, but it looks like it’s decided not to have any debates about what that means.”
Coleman was always considered the overwhelming favourite to win the race, and the candidate preferred by party insiders.
But in recent weeks, it went further. There was a complaint made to the party by Barry’s camp for unfair campaigning practices, and a steady drumbeat of cabinet ministers came out supporting Coleman.
Blidook said that in order to create some excitement, the Tories needed Barry to stay in and lose, to create a real competition.
“You can run a sham and you can make it look a little bit less like a sham than this. This is so obviously orchestrated at this point,” he said. “He was obviously going to lose. They didn’t need to start piling it on, and that’s what they did.”
Coleman said he feels like there’s been a lot of excitement from the party members he’s talked to, and he feels that (Barry) dropping out of the race constitutes a win.
“I think the rank-and-file were expressing a choice, and he decided to withdraw in the face of that choice. So I would spin it that way,” he said. “The fact that, you know, Bill withdrew for reasons that we had amassed enough support, I think it does speak to the fact that we’ve contested and contested successfully.”
Coleman will become premier without anybody in the province casting a vote for him in any kind of democratic process.
He can become premier before he gets a seat in the House of Assembly.
If he doesn’t take over the top job until July, Coleman very likely won’t step inside the House of Assembly until late November.
He said for the time being, he’s going to keep having meetings across the province to talk to party members, even though he isn’t campaigning against anybody anymore.
“I would love to get to every district over the next number of months,” he said. “Unless something prevents me from doing it, my intention is to keep going.”
The Western Star