Premier-in-waiting Frank Coleman was off in Toronto on Monday – reputedly undergoing intensive media training - and so he wasn’t willing to talk to reporters about anything, least of all the controversy about his views on abortion.
When Bill Barry dropped out of the Conservative leadership on Thursday, Coleman became the leader by default. The only thing left is for the party insiders figured out when they wanted him in the job. That’s not a joke. That’s pretty much what Coleman said last week after Barry bailed.
Other than that, Coleman issued yet another official statement rather than talk to people. And when controversy erupted about his support of the province’s Right to Life group, Coleman issued another statement.
Memorial University political scientist Stephen Tomblin offered CBC some scathing comments on Monday about Coleman’s performance thus far.
"This is about transformation and renewal — you need actually to address issues, talk people. You need to present your own narrative of where we're going,”said Tomblin, adding that Coleman and his supporters have not done well in explaining why Coleman should lead the province.
"But he hasn't done that. He hasn't communicated. There's this kind of sense that he has entitlement, that he has power because he has money."
Tomblin’s on-air comments were more extensive. In a windy and cold interview with Here and Now anchor Debbie Cooper on Monday evening, Tomblin connected Coleman’s behaviour with the province’s history of elitist politics. In an earlier interview with CBC Radio’s Morning Show, Tomblin likened Coleman’s take-over of the Conservative leadership to a 19th century political coronation.
Top-down politics as usual
Issuing statements. Not engaging the public in a discussion about issues directly.
Neither municipal affairs minister Steve Kent or New Democratic Party leader Lorraine Michael likely even thought about those ideas when they sent written statements to VOCM about the Coleman controversy.
Maybe they didn’t even notice that their own statements avoided the core issue in the controversy, namely that Coleman’s personal beliefs may well affect his decisions as Premier and that his statement didn't;t preclude that.
Michael, for example, put the emphasis in her comments on Coleman’s right to hold personal, religious views. She didn’t say that Coleman ought to clarify his views but said that in the event Coleman’s beliefs turned up as government policy, then she’d be obliged to say something.
Kent also avoided the issue of Coleman’s views and how they might or might not fit with Conservative Party policy. Instead he talked about his own personal history and a range of potential policies that would potentially help make abortion a rare event.
Bill Barry: progressive thinker
As it turned out, the most substantive comment on the controversy that began last week came not from an active politician on Monday but from Bill Barry. He posted it to the Facebook page of his now defunct leadership campaign:
"Being raised a Catholic I did personally struggle with this matter in my younger years. Eventually however, as I grew as an individual, I began to realize it is a basic principal of freedom of an individual - in this case a female.
Church doctrine written by males exclusively with a mind set of domination and control have driven this agenda to be characterized against God's or for God's will - all self serving to say the least.
Another point which is worthy of reflection is that one often sees those who are advantaged by wealth as "pro-life" and many less well-off who are forced by the reality of poverty to be pro-choice.
At the end of the day a female's or male's rights are primary in nature and equal in all respects. If one accepts this proposition, as I certainly do, then one has no conclusion to be reached other than to support a female's right to choose."
The most progressive idea expressed thus far in the controversy from a leader or prospective leader came from a guy the Telegram editorial writer dismissed on Saturday as a “loose cannon”, as someone the Tories needed:
They needed him to lose, of course, but they needed him nonetheless.
You really need to stop for a second and let that sink in. On the face of it, you’d expect New Democrat leader Michael to represent the progressive voice. But clearly, her emphasis was on supporting Coleman and his right to religious views. Michael wasn’t concerned about the issue of choice or the need to ensure that the Conservative administration was not on the verge of shifting public policy dramatically with an unelected leader chosen by an essentially undemocratic process. She would get concerned about them, theoretically, in the future at some point, but not now.
The fact Michael issued a written statement instead of calling from wherever she was on vacation just fit nicely with her behaviour as leader. Michael has always seemed to just enjoy being included in the political elite. As long as Lorraine gets a seat, Lorraine’s good.
Kent: Lightweight Elitist
Kent’s diversionary response was fairly typical of his lightweight politics. Where Kent’s really showed his condescending elitism the past few days is his handling of changes to the Municipalities Act that would allow councils to appoint infants as non-voting “youth representatives.”
Ostensibly this is supposed to be a way to encourage youth involvement in municipal politics. What it actually shows is that Kent was looking for a bit of fluff. He didn’t bother to get support for the idea from municipal leaders anywhere in the province. It came as a surprise to most of them.
The amendments actually don;t do anything. Councils can decide for themselves if they want to appoint young people; nothing is mandatory. Councils can also decide what – if anything – these youth representatives might do. There’s no consistency across the province.
And there’s also no requirement about who gets appointed. well, nothing except that the person must be under the age of 18 years. In Manitoba, they added the stipulation that the appointees had to be school-age. Kent’s draft wiped that out so that, in effect, newborns can get the nod. That’s just a sign of how meaningless Kent’s initiative actually is.
But to see it for the elitist crap it is, just note Kent’s response [On Point, April 19] to the critics: if anyone has a better idea, give us an amendment before the Conservatives ram the through the House. There’s really no time for people to come with a better idea, or at least one that anyone could get in place before the end of May.
Then again, Kent isn’t interested in changing his mind. What he said is – in so many words – a polite way of telling people to get used to things as they are. His idea will go through and no one can change anything. He may be smiling as he says it, but Kent’s reply to the critics is just the same old patronising, elitist eff off that the Conservatives used as they rammed through laws like Bill 29.
And then, things went horribly wrong
Through all of that, Coleman and his team are still taking serious damage to their political future with the controversy over Coleman’s Right to Life activities. By all signs, they seem to have missed this one altogether even though Coleman’s pro-life activity is widely known. If they saw the abortion issue coming, they either ignored it or called the play completely wrong. Coleman is an amateur, as Tomblin said, but in truth, it seems that the amateur politician has also surrounded himself with political amateurs. That just makes things worse.
Whether they saw it coming or not, what the amateurs did on Friday turned out to be the worst way of handling Coleman’s personal views on a sensitive issue. Coleman and his team not only aroused the pro-choice sentiment in the province. They also gave great encouragement to the Right to Life association. They hope that Coleman will act on his convictions and completely eliminate abortion in the province.
The problem for Coleman is that his pro-life friends may be small in number but these people are vocal. No matter what way Coleman goes on abortion, at this point, he’ll just make things worse.
[Note: SRBP wrote this post Monday night]