It’s been over a month since Frank (The Grocer) Coleman shocked the province and pushed the political exit door to return to the profession of peddling salt meat and cabbage, and a resumption, I would assume, of his place in the traditionally lucrative profession in Newfoundland of asphalt and crushed stone.
But nowhere have I read, seen or heard in our local news outlets a story that would provide elaboration of Coleman’s explanation for reneging on his ascension to the PC throne and the premier’s chair, positions conveniently provided by local Tories with hardly a whimper of in-house opposition.
The media, I can only presume, felt that Coleman’s publicly stated reason for leaving the party and the province in the lurch — a “significant and challenging family matter” — was enough information for the public to digest; that the premier-designate’s request, his insistence, in fact, on total privacy, should be honoured.
Or maybe there were a few token efforts made by reporters to obtain more detail, to work towards some elucidation of that “family matter,” efforts that may have been ultimately unsuccessful.
It seems to me, though, that any journalist with experience and contacts would have been able to uncover exactly what it was that drove Coleman to abandon the enormous public responsibility he had asked for, and had been given. This is an intimate place in which we all reside, where everyone knows someone who knows someone; where, as it is crudely put, the scent of a person’s backfire can be identified within a hundred-mile range, and where we all seem to be related in one way or another. (As my old friend Ray Guy was fond of saying: Newfoundland has a gene pool the size of a pease pudding bag).
So, if a reporter wished to get elaboration on Coleman’s reason for rejecting the offer of the premier’s job, it was a few phone calls away.
Now I admit, I could have missed an exclusive, copyrighted story on the actual reasons for Coleman’s resignation; this is, after all, mid-summer, a gorgeous summer at that, and my days jigging codfish just outside Flatrock Harbour and other laid-back pursuits may have interfered with my attention span. A normal awareness of news and current affairs may have gotten short shrift during these sun-soaked days of frivolity in July.
And if the media types have actually reported on this matter, I can only hang my head in shame for having missed it. But I doubt that’s the case.
Such a story wouldn’t have drifted over my sun-drenched skull.
Now, obviously, there are a fair number of people (especially politicians) who would argue that pursuing this sort of story would constitute a violation of Coleman’s private life, that it would amount to another example of media sensationalism, a piece of yellow journalism produced by those scumbags of the Fourth Estate anxious to sell papers and increase ratings.
But it seems to me that journalists should not worry about any public backlash here, that they have obligations that supersede the fact that they’ll be chastised and condemned in some circles for ignoring Coleman’s demand for privacy.
It’s not as if Coleman walked away from a position of minor significance. He was to be the next premier, the most influential figure in Newfoundland, and was already being viewed in that way.
Governance, in the meantime, was in a relative state of limbo as the province awaited Coleman’s coronation, a transitional period that was further extended by Coleman’s sudden decision to quit. (Were there repercussions for the province as a result of a lame-duck administration staying in place, a multi-billion-dollar operation stuck in neutral?)
The premier’s office had been gutted of personnel, and other flacks had been hired to prepare for the next occupant, to pave (so to speak) the way for Coleman’s arrival and the launch of his administration. (That’s another question worth pursuing: how much did all of that upheaval on the eighth floor of Confederation Building cost taxpayers?)
In the meantime, Coleman had sold his paving company and, soon after, his son had negotiated successfully with the government, in the person of Transportation Minister Nick McGrath, to have a $19-million penalty for the non-completion of a project written off.
(Still other questions to be answered: is Coleman back with the company? If so, should he, the one-time premier-designate, be considered the beneficiary of that decision by government? Was that merely a matter of circumstance, a bit of serendipity for the senior Coleman?)
The Newfoundland public can’t answer any of those questions, or draw its own conclusions (which it has every right to do), unless and until it has all the necessary facts, or certainly more than has been supplied thus far.
And the starting point for information, the glue that binds all aspects of that brief but controversial time in Newfoundland politics, is a more detailed explanation of Coleman’s move last month; Newfoundlanders should be able to conclude, one way or the other, whether Coleman was sick and tired of the public scrutiny and was using the “family matter” as a convenient excuse to throw in the towel.
And if, by the way, a decent investigation concludes that the family matter was, in fact, legitimate, and turns out to be of a grave or sensitive nature, there are ways to report that story without embarrassing or hurting anyone, but equally important, assuring Newfoundlanders that Coleman’s decision was justifiable and above reproach.
That’s the very least that we can expect.
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.