Former premier Danny Williams isn't saying who he will support for Newfoundland and Labrador's next Tory leader and premier.
But he is saying who he won't back.
"Bill Barry would definitely not have my support. Absolutely not," Williams told reporters at an event Monday to formally name his new real estate development on the outskirts of St. John's.
Williams said he's crossing Barry off his list for several reasons.
"First, he comes out and he indicates that this is the shortest route to the premier's office. Not necessarily Conservative, maybe a Liberal but not really sure, but this is the fast track to the premier's office.
"Then he comes out, in the same breath basically, and insults every single member of the caucus, the people he's going to have to work with, the people who represent districts in the province, and puts a mass insult on them."
Williams was referring to a public comment Barry recently made about government ministers, saying "if it's a bucket of s-h-i-t, most of them wouldn't know it if you hauled it down over the heads."
Then there's the letter Barry sent recently to all members of the same Tory caucus.
"He indicates to them that he's interested in privatizing energy ... Nalcor, Hydro, he has an interest in privatizing health care, and he has an interest in privatizing education. Well, he doesn't stand for anything that I support, so Bill Barry is off my list. That's probably the clearest thing I can tell you."
Out of context: Barry
Barry responded to Williams' comments late Monday, saying the former premier quoted him out of context.
"Obviously, former premier Williams has every right in the world to support or not support anyone he wants to," Barry told CBC.
"Unfortunately, he talked about a letter I sent to caucus which, in my view, he totally mischaracterized. I certainly didn't say Nalcor would be privatized and health and education would be privatized. That's not what I said at all." [The full text of Barry's letter is at the end of this article.]
Barry said Williams himself is a prime example of what he was referring to when it comes to private vs public sector services.
"We need to look at all options available so that ultimately we end up with the best education and health care. Just like [Williams] went to Florida to get the best care for himself, Newfoundlanders and Labradorians have every right to expect the best health care."
That was a reference to the heart surgery Williams had in the United States in 2010.
Barry said he believes in Canada's health care system, but noted sometimes it doesn't work.
"I know lots of people that have got to go to Halifax to get MRIs done and Cat scans. So I don't know what the issue would be about having a debate around what benefits can certain private things bring to our citizenry so they can get the Cat scan and they can get the care and the best physicians that are available," said Barry.
"It's not about eliminating public health care. I'm a 100-per-cent believer in the system. I just question if there's not a better way that we can get a better health care system by having some things done in a private venue where people can get things done quicker when they want to.
"It's the philosophical debate that I'm trying to spur on as opposed to any type of dogma in any direction."
'Progressive and optimistic'
Barry described his letter to caucus as a "progressive and optimistic" view of the challenges facing the province.
"We should be open to all ideas and encourage debate, bring everybody into the equation as much as possible so we can find the right solutions."
Williams, meanwhile, says he's looking forward to casting his vote for the Tory party's next leader, and the province's next premier.
But he insists he doesn't have a favourite in mind yet.
"If I see someone like Bill Barry, who I obviously have issues with his policies and the way he handles himself, I'll state that," he said.
"Otherwise, I'm keeping my powder dry for now."
Text of Bill Barry's letter to MHAs
[This letter, sent in late January to members of the Progressive Conservative caucus, was supplied to CBC News by Bill Barry's office.]
I am writing you to provide some perspective on why I have chosen to offer myself as a candidate for the leadership of our Party. I hope to speak to each MHA individually in the very near future, to listen to you, and to open myself to your questions. Certainly, there should be a vigorous debate and I expect it will be just that as we all bring great strengths. I am sure we share a common purpose to make Newfoundland and Labrador a better place for ourselves and future generations.
I am extremely passionate about Newfoundland and Labrador and sometimes my exuberance carries me far, and maybe even to be dismissive of certain accomplishments of our Party and our government. When, however, we are so low in the polls and a year away from an election, change is a must in order to energize the voters to elect a conservative government after being in power for ten years. We must renew ourselves.
At the same time, I believe we must live within our means rather than creating debt burden for future generations. I am concerned that our Province is too reliant on oil revenues to cover off the escalating cost of services provided. While I strongly support green energy, I think our population needs to be told more about the economic impacts of Muskrat Falls, which will double our debt burden. Just yesterday, I read an article in the Telegram by Gilbert Bennett of Nalcor. I fail to see how this defense, as an example, can convince anyone to his viewpoint. I believe we need greater candor and I believe that the obligation to sell this project rests with our elected representatives.
I believe we should fill the void by the oil production deficit through a more aggressive oil exploration program and the development of our large natural gas inventory. I also believe we must provide for private equity investment in the energy sector and not create an energy monopoly. We rightly insist on competition in the private sector, but at the same time not allow the private sector to compete with Nalcor.
I am just touching upon a few issues but look forward to good discussion with you. I believe the private sector, with reasonable controls and regulations, is more productive than the public sector in most areas of our economy. There are many examples to draw upon, even in the delivery of health and education services which demonstrate that parallel public and private systems stimulate greater productivity.
I am learning quickly that politics can be a humbling experience. I think it is an honorable profession and I want to be open and frank with the electorate. Our people want reasonable services with as little taxation as possible. That is what I would endeavor to deliver.
I look forward to future discussion with you. My motto, which I have lived by for 61 years, is “There is no ‘I’ in Team”. I am available 24/7 on my cell, if anyone wishes to chat. Hope to meet you all soon.