The news was in the reaction of provincial Conservatives to word that Coleman wouldn’t be Premier after all.
They skipped past the obligatory expressions of concern over Coleman’s unspecified family problem and quickly went on to talk up the chances the party now had to hold a “proper” leadership contest.
Conservatives were relieved that Frank was gone. You could almost hear the collective sigh of relief.
They had a leadership do-over and hoped that this time the party would get it right.
There’s no surprise in that.
Coleman has been a dismal failure since before he announced his candidacy. That’s when the story first appeared that tied Coleman’s bid to Danny Williams as the real power behind the throne. As putative candidate after putative candidate bailed out, events seemed to confirm that the whole thing was a set-up.
The image of a rigged game just wouldn’t go away. Even as Frank Coleman bailed out on Monday, Tom Marshall faced yet another question in a scrum about the rigged contest that put Coleman on the path to the Premier’s Office. Marshall rejected the idea as scornfully as he could but the fact that he still had to face the question confirmed how deeply rooted was the image of yet another backroom deal for the Tory leadership. Marshall also didn’t help put the story to bed with his comment to reporters that “fixes” seldom work out.
Now that Coleman is gone, the Conservatives will sort out their leadership business again. If the last go-round is any indication, they will be hard-pressed to get a selection of any sort done much before Christmas. The longer into the fall the thing drags, the less likely we are to see a fall sitting of the legislature.
The timing of the next election also drags on as well. While some were looking for an election as early as this fall, most had settled on the spring. There’s speculation from Ottawa that Stephen Harper might not last out the year. A federal election could occur as early as next spring. Since the local Conservatives don’t want to clash with a federal election, we may wind up with an election according to the original schedule, that is, in October 2015.
Those are all trivialities, of course, compared to the central political problem the Conservatives have had for some time, now made manifestly worse by Coleman’s last-minute departure. The Conservatives lack both a leader and a sense of renewal. When Kathy Dunderdale left abruptly in January, the Conservatives had a chance for a vigorous leadership They deliberately avoided it.
Now they have a second shot at the leadership, but here’s the problem: all of the likely candidates demolished their credibility by the participation in the Coleman fiasco. Steve Kent and Shawn Skinner carried on the pretence of a campaign last time right until they bailed out - literally – in the middle of the night. Either of them could have stayed in and made it a race but they chose not to.
The always ambitious Kent has been raising his profile publicly for the past few weeks but that doesn’t really get ‘round Goofball Kent’s fundamental problem, namely a rather glaring lack of substance. [right, exactly as illustrated]
Any interpretation of why Kent and Skinner didn’t stand up last time doesn’t do them credit either. If they genuinely thought that Coleman, the obviously incompetent politician, was a better candidate than they were, then they look like complete idiots. If they knuckled under to some sort of internal agreement, then they quite obviously lack the stuff one needs in a political leader.
Either that or they were crass opportunists, prepared to put their personal ambition ahead of anything else. No matter how you slice it, they don’t come off looking good.
There are some others who may enter. John Ottenheimer was the first to declare he was running. Ottenheimer would have been a good candidate a decade ago, to borrow someone else’s appraisal. He is in his early 60s and that would not be so much an issue as his health might be. Ottenheimer resigned from cabinet following a heart problem that manifested on a flight to Gander in 2005.
Ottenheimer left politics in 2007. As decent a man as Ottenheimer is, we should all doubt whether he is up to the demanding job of Premier. That’s even before anyone considers that Ottenheimer is a Harper Conservative. That may be too much for many provincial Conservatives to handle.
Tim Powers remains an outside possibility. The provincial Conservatives have screwed him around publicly a couple of times. That plus the fact that Powers is smarter than your average political bear will likely add up to Tim staying in Ottawa.
Then there’s Bill Barry. He left the Conservative leadership race earlier this year amid claims that the whole thing was fixed. If he remains interested, Barry could come back and lend the Conservative leadership a sign of life that it has clearly lacked so far. The problem Barry will have is that his ideas are so radically at odds with where the Conservatives have been for the past decade that he would be unpalatable to the very people who have been running the party over the past decade.
No one was surprised. If Coleman hadn’t bailed now, the odds of his surviving in the job very long were slim.
The names who surfaced almost immediately on news of Coleman’s departure are all people who, by their actions last time, make them third or fourth class prospects in an ordinary political circumstance.
But, frankly, the provincial Conservatives appear to be in such a mess that these are not ordinary times. At times like these, the prospect of Premier Kent is more likely than many of the other choices that have cropped up in the past six months.
Before you turn up your nose and sneer, just ask one of the local Conservative hard core. You know them, the ones who make Pollyanna Sunshine look like someone about to slit her wrists and jump off a bridge just to make sure the job gets done. Those Conservatives will tell you that you might possibly make a decent soup - a Mulligan stew – with nothing more than a rock to start with.