11 March 2014

The Throne Game, updated #nlpoli

“On the outside, Shawn Skinner and John Ottenheimer are still mulling it over, “wrote Des Sullivan last Thursday. “The price tag of running a credible campaign still daunts them; if Frank Coleman confirms his candidacy, both will fold.”

VOCM reported on Monday afternoon that Frank Coleman would make his final decision on Wednesday. CBC’s David Cochrane  reported that same information on Monday evening and added an interesting extra bit of information: unidentified Conservative Party insiders told Cochrane that it is looking less and less likely that Coleman will run.

Premier KentCochrane also reported what he and others had been reporting since Monday morning.  Former natural resources minister Shawn Skinner and municipal affairs minister Steve Kent - right showing maturity and judgment - were collecting signatures for their leadership nomination.

Neither would declare they were in the race until, respectively, Thursday and Friday.

The Second Backroom Deal Falls Apart

Coleman is out and so the others step forward.  Sullivan got it dead right.

If Sullivan was guessing, then we should all get him to buy lottery tickets. Sullivan wasn’t guessing, of course. He had good sources that gave him  - for the second time – solid information about the Conservative leadership. 

The sources gave Sullivan not just the surface detail of who is in and who is out but also the sort of detail only genuine insiders would know:

According to insiders, they are emboldened because rumours abound [that] Coleman is having second thoughts. …

Coleman is not comfortable with the extemporaneous demands of public speaking.  …

Sources report Coleman did not make a big impression on attendees to a cocktail reception hosted while the Cabinet met in Corner Brook. He was present for 90 minutes; Bill Barry is reported to have stayed until midnight and left in the company of several Ministers.

One detail explains a lot

That’s the kind of detail that helps fill in gaps in the story coming through the conventional media. No one has explained, for example, why there have only been a couple of declared candidates and none – so far -  from inside the current caucus.

In any other party – including the provincial Conservatives in Newfoundland and Labrador – and at any other time, guys like Shawn Skinner, right, and Steve Kent would already be campaigning to be Premier.

There are plenty of reasons why they should be campaigning already.  There are basically none that persuasively explain why they haven’t been out there drumming up votes and money yet.

If they weren’t out there campaigning, either they didn’t really want the job or something was blocking them.  While Skinner might not be so overly ambitious as to crave the Premier’s job in his bones,  the same couldn’t be said of Kent. Sullivan’s account identifies a massive blockage that conveniently explains why no one else has been getting into the race and two likely candidates like Skinner and Kent have been curiously non-committal about the campaign.

Citizen WilliamsAnd it also explains why the two laddios have pushed off their own announcement this week until after Coleman confirms what he is doing, precisely. The boys don’t want to run afoul of such an influential party insider as Danny Williams. They lived with him long enough to know how bad that experience would be.

Plus, they also know Williams may have vacated the leader’s job but he never surrendered his influence within the party. Something had to be scaring Shawn and Steve shitless and there’s only one bear in the Conservative woods capable of inducing that kind of bowel-liquefying fear.

Barry, Skinner, or Kent

Change the variables:  change the outcomes.

Not a hard concept to grasp.

With Coleman balking, the race for the Conservative leadership now looks like Shawn Skinner, Bill Barry, and Steve Kent with maybe one or two other hangers-on.

Skinner’s the guy your humble e-scribbler selected in late January – long before Coleman’s name turned up – as the likely Establishment candidate to fend off Bill Barry.  Given Sullivan’s background and in a race involving Skinner, Barry, and Kent, Shawn is the logical choice for the current party establishment to rally behind. He’s got the experience. He presents well and he’s been known to take a firm stand of his own from time to time.

One thing that doesn’t change for Shawn Skinner from the SRBP post on Friday is that lots of people know that Shawn didn’t come as the Old Man’s first choice. That may affect his campaign.  Following on Sullivan’s observation, it will be interesting to see what Danny Williams does with the race generally and with Sullivan particularly once Coleman bails.

As for Kent, if he has any traction at all, Kent is likely to appeal to the same people who would vote for Skinner.  It’s an odd strategy to split the anti-Barry or non-Barry vote. Even if Kent eventually sides with Skinner on second or third balloting, anything that weakens Skinner in the race runs the risk of strengthening Barry’s hand, if he appears to be performing well.

Then there is Barry, himself.  He’s had a chance to build some support where, frankly, an awful lot of people, would have doubted he would get so much as a polite hello.  The fact that he hung around a reception in Corner Brook and seemed to hit it off with a few Conservative politicians means that he might have a shot at the leadership after all.   

There is always the chance Barry will implode on the campaign trail.  He is frank and can be abrasive.  He hasn’t learned the politician’s art saying words without them having any meaning in the way the highly-scripted Kent has.

Then again, that might not be a liability.  At least one other Conservative leadership candidate went on to a highly successful career saying whatever popped into his head whenever he felt like it.