John Ottenheimer’s nomination papers to enter the Progressive Conservative Party of Newfoundland and Labrador leadership race were in place months ago. In the end, he chose not to file them when the first campaign to permanently replace former premier Kathy Dunderdale got underway.
But following Corner Brook businessman Frank Coleman’s announcement last Monday he was dropping out of the race for family reasons, Ottenheimer was quick to assert he would run in a new leadership race.
With the PCs forced to announce last Friday new dates for a leadership convention and July 7 deadline for accepting nominations, Ottenheimer wasted little time in formalizing his plans. The former MHA for St. John’s East filed his nomination papers with PC party executives Monday afternoon.
“It’s something I’d given some thought to, even the first time around about three or four months ago,” Ottenheimer told The Telegram. “The decision for me was relatively quick and relatively easy.”
With other candidates either choosing to drop out or disqualified by the party, Coleman appeared destined to become the 12th premier of Newfoundland and Labrador. But that all changed with last Monday’s surprising announcement.
Ottenheimer is no stranger to the political scene in Newfoundland and Labrador. He was an MHA for 11 years and served in former premier Danny Williams’ cabinet as minister of health, education and intergovernmental affairs. Ottenheimer was a candidate for the federal Conservatives in the 2011 general election, but lost in the riding of Random-Burin-St. George's to Liberal Judy Foote.
According to Ottenheimer, Newfoundland and Labrador is at an important juncture in its history, with the governing PCs having played an essential role in shepherding the province’s interests. He also admits things have not been easy for the party of late.
“We’re going through a difficult time right now — I mean, that’s no great secret. We have an opportunity here for new leadership. I believe there’s a new feeling of optimism.”
He links that optimism to the likelihood of having a contested race for the PC leadership.
“Certainly, according to media reports, there are a number of caucus and cabinet members who are giving it serious thought. I genuinely hope we have a race. I think it’s important that we have a contested leadership convention, and I would expect that we’ll have others come forward within the next couple of weeks.”
Municipal Affairs Minister Steve Kent has indicated he’s considering making a run at the leadership, as has Corner Brook businessman Bill Barry. Barry was involved in the last leadership race, but dropped out, saying the campaign was a charade with party insiders anointing Coleman as the preferred candidate.
Provincial party executive director Sharon Vokey said Ottenheimer will not be an official candidate in the leadership race until his papers are credentialed, a process that’s expected to take a day or two.