By Robert J. Wakem-up
Special to The Telegram
July 7, 2014, St. John’s — In a move that caught political observers off guard, Premier Frank Coleman announced yesterday that the price of a can of peas will increase by 20 cents, effective immediately.
Coleman told a packed news conference, the day after he rode former premier Danny Williams’ coattails to victory in one of the most dynamic and enthralling leadership conventions in the province’s history, that he had checked with customers at his numerous grocery stores in Newfoundland before making the decision, the first major policy initiative of his new administration.
“I want my government to be open and transparent,” he told reporters, “and this is a first step, to let the public know just how I arrived at this historic, ground-breaking decision to increase the cost of peas in Newfoundland.”
And that is just the start of his philosophy of telling all, he promised.
“If I decide to increase the cost of a carton of milk or a pound of red potatoes, then by God, or by Danny, my customers — well, my constituents, I guess I can call them now — will know how I determined those prices,” he boldly declared.
“I know that the previous administration would have balked at releasing information on important matters like the price of milk and peas, but that was yesterday, this is today.”
When asked whether the Public Utilities Board would have any involvement in these price increases, the newly minted premier, sporting a Coleman’s apron and Coleman’s baseball cap, answered bluntly that he shares the same disdain his predecessors had for the PUB and he has no intention of approaching the regulatory agency.
“Besides, (PUB chairman) Andy Wells doesn’t seem like the type to drink milk,” he said. “And that’s a good enough reason for government to ignore the board, not that it needs any sort of reason.
“As for peas, he knows nothing, except, of course, how to pee on people.”
The start of the premier’s first news conference had been delayed while reporters tried to get his name straight.
Even his press secretary, Sam Spinner, mistakenly referred to his new boss as “Frank Foolman.”
“Sorry, that’s Coleman,” Spinner said, correcting himself.
But even after the news conference had started, reporters still had a hard time remembering the name of a premier who is a household name on two cul-de-sacs in Corner Brook, and nowhere else.
“Premier Coolman,” a CBC reporter began, before being interrupted testily by the new premier.
“It’s Coleman — Coleman — damn it all, as in the stove. Think about the damn stove, the one the Yanks invented, the one that lets Newfoundlanders cook Jiggs’ dinner in the woods, and blow themselves up occasionally,” the premier roared.
Press secretary Spinner whispered in the premier’s ear (though his words were audible to all) that it was too early to anger the media, that he had to learn to suck up to the reporters, to ingratiate himself to the media, as stomach-churning a notion as that might sound.
“Tell them a joke,” Spinner suggested. “They’re a shallow crowd.”
“Speaking of stoves,” Premier Coleman offered on cue, as sharp as a tack, “did you hear about the Newfoundlander whose parachute failed after he jumped out of an airplane over Terra Nova National Park? Well, as he plummeted to the ground, he saw another Newfoundlander heading in the opposite direction, straight up towards the sky, smoke curling out of his backside. ‘Hey!’ shouted the Newfoundlander heading for the ground, ‘Do you know anything about parachutes?’ ‘No!’ the other Newfoundlander screamed back. ‘Do you know anything about propane stoves?’”
The premier then made the sound of a snare drum — “ba-dum ching” — as most of the reporters shuffled their feet. One neophyte reporter from VOCM grabbed her belly, buckled over, and laughed uproariously (and shamelessly).
“Be a name-dropper, drop Danny’s name, drop Danny’s name,” Spinner then quietly suggested to Premier Coleman.
Coleman reacted to the advice: “I’d like to confirm that I was overjoyed to have Danny Williams tear the gizzard right out of Bill Barry and, by inference at the very least, anointing me as the leader of the PC party.”
Without any prompting, he added, rhetorically and defensively: “And what’s wrong with that? It’s a hell of a lot better than being anointed by Kathy Dunderdale”
Coleman said he felt no indebtedness to the former premier, that he owed Williams no favours.
“For sure, though, I would be crazy, as premier, not to check with Mr. Williams whenever I wish to change the price of Vienna Sausages or pickled wieners,” he said.
One veteran reporter was overheard remarking at that point that the last time he heard “pickled” and “premier” mentioned in the same breath, it was 30 years ago when Frank Moores admitted he had been pickled for decades.
Coleman also said he would be appointing a judicial inquiry to determine the identify of the one delegate on the weekend who voted for Wayne Bennett.
Also yesterday, defeated leadership candidate Bill Barry held a news conference and howled and screamed like a baby.
“See, as I told you several months ago, the PC caucus wouldn’t know shit, even if it was dumped on their heads,” an incensed Barry shouted in between sobs.
Barry revealed that he had written Pope Francis to see if the Holy Father had any power to overturn the results of the convention.
Noting that he had written Pope John Paul II back in the 1990s to ask that he use his godly influence to turn aside the results of the referendum in Newfoundland that paved the way to the elimination of denominational education, Barry said he believed the vote on the weekend to elect Frank Coleman was equally sinful, and that he had nothing to lose in seeking papal intercession.
He also said he would ask Pope Francis to annul his decision making Coleman the godfather of one of his children.
“As a godfather, he was not allowed to show bad example to his godchild,” cried Barry, “but he fell into the sinful hands of Danny Williams.”
Meanwhile, Lorraine Michael, the NDP leader, and a former nun, reacted to Barry’s overture to the Pope by revealing that she had had her very own exchange with the current head of the Catholic Church.
Michael disclosed that Pope Francis had emailed her to say that Dale Kirby and Christopher Mitchelmore would pay for the sin of scuttling the NDP in Newfoundland.
“The Holy Father told me there’s a couple of reserved spots on the grill of hell’s political barbecue for the likes of those two scoundrels,” she said.
Meanwhile, Liberal Leader Dwight Ball was characteristically profound when asked for his assessment of the Tory leadership convention.
“Yadda, yadda, yadda,” Ball declared.
Bob Wakeham has spent more than 40 years as a journalist in Newfoundland and Labrador. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.