Leadership contender Bill Barry says the Progressive Conservative Party played by the rules when it disqualified controversial candidate Wayne Bennett from the list of candidates for this summer's convention.
The party's rules committee dropped Bennett on Thursday, on grounds that he had violated the party's constitution and offended party values on several grounds, ranging from tweets about Muslims that were considered racist, to his endorsement of the NDP candidate in the Virginia Waters byelection.
Barry, speaking with CBC News at a meet-and-greet event he staged for supporters at a St. John's hotel, said he respects the party's decision on Bennett.
"Some of my opinions are a little bit colourful but I think that's a judgment decision," said Barry, who raised eyebrows when he launched his campaign by criticizing how decisions have been made at Confederation Building.
"Who should make the decision? Well, obviously the party that we're running for — it's their rules, it's their constitution, so ultimately it's the rules committee in the party that [makes] the judgment."
Barry said he would expect the same treatment if he were to do or say something wrong.
Thursday's decision leaves Barry and fellow Corner Brook businessman Frank Coleman as the only two candidates in the race for the PC leadership.
Even as Barry distanced himself from Bennett, Bennett has been doing the opposite. Speaking with CBC News on Thursday, for instance, Bennett said he and Barry were working together on the same agenda to shake up the top tier of the PC Party.
"It's like fighting city hall. You can't fight city [hall] from the outside. Myself and Mr. Barry [are] going to clean up the PC Party of Newfoundland and Labrador," he said.
Barry's campaign office said Friday that Barry "to his knowledge has never met or even spoken to Mr. Bennett."
Bennett said he is planning a court challenge against the PCs, and also predicted that support for the party will collapse because of the decision made against him.
Barry steps up leadership campaign
Meanwhile, Barry said his focus now is on winning the support of the Tory rank and file. About 50 people came out Thursday night to meet him at a St. John's hotel.
"My actual campaigning, other than in the local area in the Humber Valley, has only taken place really this week," said Barry, who also held similar functions in Grand Falls-Windsor and Clarenville.
Barry shrugged off criticism from former premier Danny Williams, who sparked a controversy in February when he said Barry should not be allowed to lead the party, and thus the province. Williams echoed the comments earlier this week, while he also refused to endorse any particular candidate.
"I'm sure in Danny's heart of hearts, he really loves me. I think he really cares for me, and he would really like see me premier," Barry said.
The Tories will pick a new leader at a July 4-5 convention — it will be the first time for the party to hold such an event since 1995 when Lynn Verge defeated Loyola Sullivan in a hotly contested race.
The race launched after Kathy Dunderdale resigned as premier in January. She stepped down as the MHA for Virginia Waters in late February.