The most interesting aspect of the upcoming Tory leadership-cum-inauguration convention is that it might finally answer the question of whether or not Newfoundlanders (and Labradorians) have a limit to the amount of embarrassment and manipulation they are willing to endure.
At the July 4-5 event, Frank Coleman will be acclaimed as the new PC party leader and, ergo, will become premier of the province without getting a single vote, by either party members or anyone in the public.
Coleman can legally serve as premier of the province without holding a seat in the House of Assembly. As party leader, he automatically becomes premier, even though he isn’t an MHA. But he can’t participate in House of Assembly debates or votes until he wins a seat.
There have been controversies when a person won a party leadership and automatically became premier, without the benefit of winning a general election.
The recently retired Kathy Dunderdale was premier for 10 months in 2010-11 before winning the general election of October 2011.
Other recent instances were Kathleen Wynne in Ontario in 2013 and Ed Stelmach in Alberta in 2006.
In each case, there was public debate about whether a general election should be called.
Wynne is still in office. Stelmach waited until 2008 to go to the polls. He won, of course, being a Tory in Alberta.
Dunderdale, Wynne and Stelmach were sitting members of their respective provincial legislatures when they moved into the top office. The process was controversial nonetheless.
Coleman is not a member of the provincial legislature. Nevertheless, the parliamentary system allows him to serve as premier without being an MHA.
But it is unlikely the public will view his premiership as legitimate, unless — as some have claimed — the Newfoundland (and Labrador) voter is indeed among the most naïve and gullible in the ballot-
Even if Coleman quickly obtains a seat by winning a byelection, his premiership will lack full legitimacy, because the Tories will not have won a general election under his leadership.
The Tories seem to be making every effort to win the contempt of the electorate. The fact that not a single sitting MHA had the courage to run for the leadership helps solidify in the public’s mind that the PC caucus is primarily comprised of lightweights.
The party kicked one leadership contender (Wayne Bennett) out of the race for expressing obnoxious opinions, but when another leadership contender (Frank Coleman) expressed opinions that were equally obnoxious, it was spinmeistered as being his personal viewpoint.
The Tories aren’t finished earning the public’s derision. Rather than do the right and honourable thing, they will predictably do what’s good for the party rather than what’s good for the province.
What they should do, of course, is call a provincial election for early August.
Coleman’s first act as premier should be to set a date for an immediate general election.
The PCs won’t do this. We know they won’t do this, based on their record.
They have spent more than a decade proving that they are conniving manipulators.
Instead, they will get Coleman into the House of Assembly via a byelection.
They have a year from July 5 in which to call a general election, so they will delay it as long as possible, giving themselves more time to convince the electorate that they are not conniving manipulators, even as they connive and manipulate.
With the extra time, they’ll rely on Coleman becoming entrenched on the premier’s throne and winning worship and subservience from enough of the populace to get re-elected.
The worst part is that their machinations might succeed.
Brian Jones is a desk editor
at The Telegram. He can be reached