Premier-in-waiting Frank Coleman did speak to the Telegram on Monday evening about the controversy that has been raging all weekend over his views on abortion and what that might mean for public policy in the province.
Coleman chose to issue a statement on Friday that didn’t address the central issues. He was silent all weekend and unavailable to other media all day Monday.
That only made Coleman’s problem of a big lack of legitimacy and credibility all that much worse, of course.
Late on Monday, Coleman has tried to put the controversy behind him, but he will have a fair bit of work to do.
Coleman told the Telegram that he doesn’t ‘”intend to find ways to exact any control over people’s choices. That’s not me, and I don’t intend to impose my views on people.”
Coleman said he doesn’t intend to change “any current public funding models or any policy that would have a negative impact on the rule of law with respect to abortion.”
All finished, right? Well, Conservatives will probably say so but there are a few lingering problems and those are the ones that matter.
For starters, Coleman took four days to issue the statement that he should have issued on Friday. People will wonder why. Coleman doesn’t really have a viable answer. This reinforces the view - voiced most clearly by political scientist Stephen Tomblin – that Coleman and his team are political amateurs, or worse, that they really are elitists.
Neither one works well for any politician and the second one is especially deadly given the public dissatisfaction with the elitist way the Conservatives have been ruling the province.
Second, Bill Barry still said it better and he said it on Friday.
Coleman’s latest comments still sound like they were written by a team of lawyers. Where he needed simple declaratory statements – “I will not…” - in order to be clear and convincing, Coleman tells us that he does not “intend to find ways.” Then he talks about the rule of law again.
More words don’t help. In this case, they do the opposite.
Coleman has a fundamental credibility problem on this issue stemming entirely from the way he handled last week. The fact that he took four days to address an issue that has been clearly there since Friday will only add doubt in some minds that Coleman isn’t really sincere in this statement.
Picking the wrong words just makes more problems. Too many politicians have changed their intentions later on, as people well know. Brian Tobin comes readily to mind. His responses on questions about whether he would stay in office for a full term after the 1999 election talked about intention. I intend to stay for the full term, that sort of thing.
As it turned out, he meant his intention was to stay but that intention only applied as the words literally came out of his mouth. The intention later might be something else; as it turned out, he later intended something else. Tobin was gone within two years of a five year mandate.
Third, Coleman runs smack into the actions and words dilemma. His words say that he doesn’t want to impose his views on others. That’s what people want to hear. Unfortunately, Coleman’s actions of participating in the Good Friday march all those years say otherwise.
Patrick Hanlon exemplifies the Good Friday protesters. In a letter to the Western Star, Hanlon said that pro-life activists in the province are now hoping that Coleman would now use his position to abolish abortion rights in the province. What Coleman still has to reconcile for many people is the contradiction between his statement that he does not intend “to find ways to exact control over people” with his participation in a political march that is - undeniably - aimed at exerting control over other people.
Coleman’s latest statement doesn’t get him away from the very first statement Coleman made about this issue, the one to the Telegram’s James McLeod that sparked the controversy. Asked if he would be participating in the annual march in Corner Brook this year, Coleman said he would have been there except that he was in central Newfoundland and therefore unable to attend. As it turned out his wife and some other members of his family turned up at the protest.
That sounds like a guy who is still committed to imposing his views on others. Actions always speak louder than words and the actions of participating in the march do more to define who Frank Coleman is than his insistence – four days late – that imposing is views, well, “that’s not me.” That’s the nub of Coleman’s problem and it remains firmly in place even after his Monday statements.
The action Coleman is still avoiding is a key part of all this. Some day he will have to speak to all the media. He’s going to have to get used to that really quickly now that he is the Premier.
He’s going to have to put those few days of media training in Toronto to good use sooner rather than later. if the abortion controversy is any indication, Coleman’s going to need more than a couple of days to get ready and that’s, in truth, a couple of days he just doesn’t have.