The wild card

Pam Frampton
Published on June 7, 2014

Five months ago, I wrote about how the provincial Progressive Conservatives were obsessed with the notion of a “reset button.”

Cabinet ministers Susan Sullivan and Steve Kent — both Kathy Dunderdale loyalists — were taking to the airwaves to talk about how Dunderdale’s departure from the premier’s office was a good time for their party to “hit reset” and start again.

Everything was “refresh” and “renew,” with members of caucus waxing on about new beginnings.

Fast-forward to now and the PCs should be frantically groping for the ejector-seat button.

Because let’s face it: they’re in the middle of the political equivalent of a bobsled race, rushing head-long down an icy chute, racing perilously towards an election they will likely lose. Frank Coleman is steering and the brakes have failed.

People have made much about the fact that no one seems to know a lot about our premier-by-default, except that he’s widely seen as Danny Williams’ anointed one, despite Williams’ protestations to the contrary. Coleman was the only man left standing in a leadership race that fizzled before it even got started.

Perhaps that is just an east-coast-centric point of view. Certainly folks on the west coast are familiar with the Coleman family, as is anyone who read the insightful cover story by Dawn Chafe in the May/June 2010 edition of Atlantic Business Magazine, when Coleman was named CEO of the Year.

Rereading that article recently, I learned that he and his wife have seven children; that he is a doting father; and that he once aspired to be an opera singer and was raised with a work ethic that has earned him the respect of his employees.

Of course, that profile was written before Coleman showed any interest in governing the province.

So, what is it we want to know about him, exactly?

He has said his personal views on abortion won’t influence public policy; that privatizing liquor stores and opening casinos are not among his top priorities. He’s said he hopes to run (or is already running?) a leaner premier’s office, and plans to tackle underfunded public pensions early on in his by-default mandate.

That’s all well and good. But there’s more we’d like to know about the man who will govern a province he has not been elected to serve — once his leadership is formally endorsed by the party in July.

What does he stand for? What are his policies? Why does he even want to be premier?

What are his business holdings?

Who owned Humber Valley Paving when the company was let out of a contract for Labrador roadwork before the work was completed?

“I like what this government has stood for,” Coleman has said.

Does that mean that Coleman, as premier, will encourage his cabinet ministers to foster relationships with contractors and developers, where a personal word in the minister’s ear is just a phone call away, and tenders and penalties be damned?

Not that I’m suggesting anything untoward happened with Humber Valley’s paving contract, though there is enough confusion that the auditor general has been asked to get to the bottom of it.

But I do think it more than passing strange that a businessman can contact a government minister directly, have a chat and — poof! — contractual obligations disappear.

Should cabinet ministers really be involved at that level?

And where does it end? Will Coleman’s government treat big industry the same way if they pull up stakes mid-project and leave a mess behind? Will they not be made to clean it up or pay a penalty?

That may sound like extrapolation, but this government has said it wouldn’t want to put anyone out of business.

It’s not encouraging that Coleman hasn’t even assumed the premiership and he’s already been embroiled in a handful of controversies.

And surely it does not bode well for journalism or an informed electorate when the premier-designate is in a racket with the media before he’s even out of the gate.

What fresh torments await?

Nor was it a sign of strong leadership when Tory heavyweight John Crosbie came out and basically called Coleman a puppet and he uttered nary a word in his own defence.

As it stands now, we have an incoming premier who has not been elected; an official opposition that’s still trying to find its feet; and  the NDP, whose members know full well where their feet are and have been known to take shots at them.

For God’s sake, please — somebody hit the reset button.

Pam Frampton is a columnist and The Telegram’s associate managing editor. Email Twitter: pam_frampton