Bill Barry says ‘probably a dozen’ insiders picked Frank Coleman for PC leader
Bill Barry knows how to rig a delegated convention, if you’re trying to do that sort of thing. He was involved in doing it last time around, 25 years ago, when the PC party selected Tom Rideout to be premier.
Bill Barry sat down with the Telegram Wednesday to talk politics, underhanded campaigning and the straw that broke the camel's back and pushed him out of the race.— Photo by James McLeod/The Telegram
Back then, there were all sorts of underhanded tricks, but the easiest one was to simply book a small venue for the delegate selection meeting.
“You’d normally pick a building that you could only put a hundred people into. Then the fire marshal, the fire code would shut it down after a hundred,” he said. “So all you had to do was make sure that your 60 or 70 people got there first. Then it was done.”
Back then, as a campaign worker in the Bay of Islands district, Barry said he was involved in all sorts of stuff.
“You’d be hauling people out of bars, and I can remember, one day we gave out 300 dozen beer or something,” Barry said.
Fast-forward a couple decades, and he said he expected the leadership process to be more on the up-and-up.
“Yes, I’m asking it to be different than the delegated conventions 25 years ago. Yes I am. I have that expectation. But you know what? Before they cashed my cheque of $10,000 I told them I had that expectation. I told them for two months that I had that expectation that this was going to be a clean delegated convention,” Barry said. “I am not OK with small-minded people manipulating people in their own districts that they think that they want, to give them power over who’s going to be the God damn premier. I am not OK with that.”
Barry surprised a lot of people in political circles last Thursday when he bowed out of the PC Party leadership race. He said the deck was stacked against him, and the party machine was boxing him out.
He sat down to talk with The Telegram over lunch Wednesday to explain what he saw that convinced him that the fix was in.
The turning point was the Bonavista South delegate selection meeting. At that meeting, Barry said every single convention delegate was nominated by local MHA Glen Little’s constituency assistant.
And at the April 10 meeting, Barry said he saw people passing around small printed cards with names on them, telling people who to vote for.
The next night, April 11, The Telegram sent a reporter to the Trinity-Bay de Verde district delegate selection meeting in Heart’s Content, and observed similar activities.
When questioned, everybody in Heart’s Content said they knew nothing about little printed cards with names on them. The Telegram was planning on investigating the matter further at other delegate selection meetings, but then Barry dropped out of the race before we got a chance.
Barry made a formal complaint about unfair campaign practices to the PC party, but he said he was brushed off.
Barry said he had a message that he wanted to get out, and he believed that people would find his views on the direction for the provincial government compelling, but he met with obstruction and a deaf ear during the campaign.
He said he pushed for a series of televised debates, but his opponent, Frank Coleman, stalled and declined. Finally, the Coleman camp agreed to a half-hour radio debate on May 1, but by that time, the campaign was already half over and at least 14 delegate selection meetings would have already taken place.
The Telegram requested an interview with premier-in-waiting Frank Coleman for this story, but a spokeswoman said he was unavailable.
Barry said he’d get back into the race if the party addressed his concerns and made it a level playing field. Convention co-chair Tommy Williams told The Telegram that as far as they’re concerned, Barry is out of the race.
Williams said the party will likely make an announcement today about what happens next.
Stepping back and taking a look at the big picture, Barry said he thinks that the Liberal model for a party leadership is better, with voting open to anybody who wants to sign up. The Liberals also held a series of debates before anybody cast a ballot.
The way things happened, though, Barry said it seems a very small group of insiders picked Frank Coleman.
“Your premier is chosen by, probably a dozen people,” he said. “It was probably the straw that broke the camel’s back. I was told by a particular individual that I was providing a great service to the party. And I was thinking about, you know, the bull servicing the cow, and thinking that I was the cow.”