Call it a colossal screw-up for the PCs. When Frank Coleman stepped out of the PC leadership race last Monday, it was a monumental embarrassment for the party.
With Coleman gone, the PCs suffer a further blow to their brand, already in disarray following a lacklustre leadership contest between political novices.
Now, with no one left on the ballot for PC leader, it’s back to Square 1.
The convention will have to be pushed back and the leadership question left unsolved for a couple more months.
Let the frenzied recovery mode begin.
As for whoever ends up eventually winning the party leadership, the road to the premier’s office will be one riddled with questions on why they didn’t enter the race until the second time around.
Why now and not before? Were they bullied out of the leadership contest’s first instalment? Were they afraid to put their name forward? What’s changed?
For Tom Marshall, who thought retirement and relaxation were just around the corner, Coleman’s departure means the interim premier has to hang on another while until a new leader can be sworn in. Marshall wants out, but it’s turning out to be a heck of a lot more complicated than expected.
The premier’s office has also suffered from the Coleman chaos. Its staff was recently gutted to make way for Coleman’s transition team — a move criticized as a purge of the Dunderdale faithful — but now, with no Coleman and no need for his transition crew, the government must ponder an about-face on its recent hires and fires.
Coleman, for his part, will remain as nebulous and ill-defined as ever, right down to the reason for his departure. Blaming pressing family reasons is an unsatisfying excuse for the public, given its impenetrable vagueness, and as Coleman’s companies’ previous business dealings with the provincial government continue to face public scrutiny, the announcement will remain, for the province’s political cynics at heart, a readily exploited protection mechanism.
No matter how you slice this one, things don’t look good for the Tories. Thanks to Coleman’s surprise exit, the interim premier, the premier’s office, the PC party and the future PC leader all have awkwardness ahead of them.
The reboot Coleman’s decision gives the PC party could be considered a blessing in disguise given the would-be leader’s low profile, the leadership race’s original slate of candidates and the series of slip-ups the party has endured throughout its first run at a leadership contest.
But overcoming the past few months’ successive gaffes may prove difficult to achieve.
A new leadership contest could also draw out Danny Williams again, another mixed blessing considering the former premier’s celebrity status and heavyweight political muscle. Williams reliably attracts a media presence, but his opposition to former leadership hopeful Bill Barry’s candidacy was one of the early factors to significantly hurt the Corner Brook businessman’s chances of winning the PC crown, eventually leading to his withdrawal from the race.
Williams’ meddling in another leadership contest, especially should there again be only a small number of candidates, could have similar consequences for stifling the healthy competition and public attention leadership races target.
All things considered, climbing out of the hole dug by Coleman’s departure may not be impossible for the PC party, but doing so could be like walking through a minefield.
The PCs have a lot of baggage entering into a new race.
With precious time and political capital wasted, there’s a lot riding on the next few months and a lot of political manoeuvring to engineer.
They’d better move fast, but they’d better tread carefully.
Patrick Butler, who’s from Conception Bay South, is a second-year journalism student at Carleton University. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.