07 May 2014

Power and Influence #nlpoli

If nothing else, the controversy over the sweet heart deal the provincial Conservatives cut with Frank Coleman’s son at Humber Valley Paving should dispel the fairy tale that Coleman and his family are political outsiders.

They are very much the quintessential political insiders.

Transportation minister Nick McGrath admitted to reporters on Tuesday that he’d never been involved in a negotiation before about road paving contracts like the one with Gene Coleman for Humber Valley Paving. 

That takes juice. In itself, that should give an idea as to why the deal stands out in people’s minds and why the Coleman influence is obviously so strong.  The Coleman influence is so strong, in fact, that it clouds people’s minds.

Pull the other one Nick.  It’s got bells on it.

McGrath claimed in the House of Assembly on Tuesday that he had no idea who Frank Coleman was when he was talking to Gene.  Opposition House leader Andrew Parsons had to ask McGrath a couple of times what he understood was Frank Coleman’s relations with the company before McGrath finally answered directly.  ”I had no idea who Frank Coleman was,”  McGrath said, “nor do I care what association he had with the company. I was dealing with a contractor.”

The idea that McGrath had never heard of Coleman is laughable, at best.  Frank’s name was in the media as Danny Williams’ preferred candidate for Conservative leader for the month before Gene Coleman approached the transportation department about the contract changes on March 13.  Coleman confirmed his candidacy on the 14th and by middle of the following week Frank had held his first news conference.

Even if we ignore all of that, it’s hard to imagine that neither McGrath’s officials nor anyone from the Premier’s Office nor any other Conservatives mentioned to McGrath that Frank Coleman – the guy who owned Humber Valley Paving – was the preferred choice for leader.

“Frank doesn’t see the problem.”

Frank Coleman emerged for a moment on Monday night to talk to some reporters about the contract.  You can hear his interview with CBC’s Peter Cowan in its entirety.  It’s fascinating.

While Coleman has declined comment previously claiming that both the company and unnamed private advisors had told him to keep his mouth shut, Coleman lavish Humber Valley Paving and his own personal management  with boundless praise.  The company had done work for the provincial government and saved the province money, Coleman said without offering any explanation of what he was talking about.

The most amazing part of the very brief interview came in response to Cowan’s questions about Coleman’s managerial prowess in light of the unpaid creditors on the Labrador contract.  Coleman noted the problems the company had with what he termed “tempest”.

And then he added this:

“Frank Coleman is also president of the Coleman Group of companies and it has been …ummm…you know… named one of Canada’s top 50 best managed companies in Canada.”

The rest is a string of  you knows and umms praising the company and the new, unnamed owners.  But Frank Coleman talking about himself in the third person like that?  It’s as absurd as  an episode of Seinfeld come to life.

Aside from the same sort of public onanism we used to get from the other Old Man to lead the Conservatives,  Frank didn’t do much more in his short interview with Cowan than decry the whole controversy over his family and company he just sold as nothing but excessive “politicking.” 

That’s not surprising, really. Power, influential people, people who are used to being political insiders like Coleman dislike talking about the influence they have.  They dislike public scrutiny and, as Coleman did in several interviews, they invariably claim that whatever they do is – without question – in the public interest.

What the powerful can also do is take two completely contradictory positions at the same time as they try and justify their actions.  For example, Coleman has claimed he could not discuss the talks between the company and the provincial government.  McGrath has insisted repeatedly that he never dealt with Frank Coleman at all. Yet at the same time,  he spoke with NTV about the negotiations as if he was aware of their details.  What’s more, Coleman told NTV,  even if he had sold his shares as late as three days before the Conservative convention, everything would still be perfectly fine.

Frank Coleman may be powerful and influential, but he and Nick McGrath have just raised even more questions about the sweet heart deal Frank’s son negotiated for the company Frank used to own like who knew what, and when they knew it.

No wonder Frank went back to playing peek-a-boo with reporters right away.