Well, well — now it’s going to get interesting. Wednesday, Corner Brook businessman Bill Barry announced his intention to seek the leadership of the provincial Progressive Conservatives, a spot left open by Kathy Dunderdale’s resignation from the premier’s job.
Barry’s well known in the province’s fishing industry, but as any reporter who has ever dealt directly with him can tell you, the way he’s “well known” in that industry doesn’t necessarily mean he’s well liked or diplomatic in any way.
He’s known as a hard bargainer and a tough, blunt negotiator — in fact, there are probably people who would pick far more colourful and direct names for the style he’s used in business.
And there are clear signs that he’s on a collision course with some Tories — almost certainly, a collision course with the existing caucus.
“It’s going to be a revolution based on transparency, democracy, environmental sustainability/protection and fiscal responsibility,” Barry supporters had written in a Facebook invitation to his announcement. Signs at the announcement suggested a main plank would be repealing the Dunderdale government’s secretive Bill 29 changes to the province’s access to information law, something every single member of the Tory caucus supported.
And once he started talking, Barry was pretty clearly on a different message track than the last Tory administration.
“Bill 29 is the most undemocratic thing I ever saw,” Barry told supporters.
Barry as a revolutionary?
That certainly would be true in one way: should Barry win, his arrival in the much-more-staid land of the cabinet room would be revolutionary indeed, a commotion worthy of a fox among the chickens.
A fair number of people would suggest the existing cabinet wouldn’t know what hit them. You almost have to wonder what Tom Marshall’s new cabinet was saying amongst themselves as they attended a swearing-in ceremony set for virtually the same identical time Wednesday as Barry’s announcement.
Because at the lieutenant-governor’s, the message was recycle and review, not revolt.
The best example? The titular architect of Bill 29, Felix Collins, was resurrected and returned to cabinet as attorney general, a clear sign that some see the way backwards as the best way forward. Meanwhile, moments after Barry’s comments, Premier Marshall announced a review of Bill 29.
Perhaps the clearest message from all this is that the next few months, politically at least, are going to be remarkable and interesting times.
The fact that Barry is clearly such an outsider makes it doubly interesting. Barry’s campaign launch looked more like an effort to reach out to a generally dissatisfied electorate than it looked like an effort to reach out to the type of existing Tory supporters he needs to woo to win the leadership in the first place.
The real question is whether he can get the support he needs from the people he needs to get it from, and that’s first and foremost, the Tories themselves.