Frank Coleman moved Tuesday to assure wary voters that they can trust him with the stewardship of Newfoundland and Labrador, amid criticism he has revealed little about the policies he might use to govern the province.
As well, Coleman attempted to defuse controversy over his participation at anti-abortion rallies in Corner Brook, insisting that he would never use his personal views to change how others think.
"My goals were genuine and my intent to win this leadership and rebuild a party is genuine," he told CBC's Radio Noon.
"I'm a fellow of conviction; I'm not afraid to admit who I am, and I think that I have an approach to managing my own affairs and my business that could be helpful in the province — and I'll let the people of the province decide that over the coming months," said Coleman.
"The province is just rocking, and I don't want to see that stop. I really believe that we are, and have a chance of, becoming, one of the most prosperous jurisdictions in the entire continent."
Personal views do not reflect policy
Meanwhile, Coleman responded to recent controversy about his personal views on abortion, and said he wanted to make it clear he has no intention of changing current policy around the issue.
- Frank Coleman abortion controversy: Who has said what
- Frank Coleman defends anti-abortion views as private
"I have this personal view, and I will not, in any way, dictate any change in current public funding models and policies that would have a negative impact on people's right to access what is lawful in the province," said Coleman.
"It's simple. I'm not out to exact any control over people's choices — that is not what I'm doing."
Coleman said while he holds his personal view, the idea that he would force his opinions on the people of the province to prompt changes to access to abortion is false.
"I have five girls in my family, plus my wife, and I'm as big a fan of seeing my five girls, and everybody else's girls, treated with equity and respect and dignity," he said.
"I think it's an absolute stretch to suggest that because I am … that I believe, personally, in the preciousness of a life, that that speaks to somehow my disaffection with women's rights — that is absolutely untrue."
Coleman must make vision clear
Coleman, the heir apparent to Newfoundland and Labrador's governing Tories, must make himself available immediately to the media and any group that wants to meet him, a former cabinet minister says of Coleman's controversially quiet ascendancy to the top of provincial politics.
"He needs to get out in front of people," Trevor Taylor, a cabinet minister in the Danny Williams government, said Tuesday, responding to criticism that Coleman has said very little to explain his vision for the province.
Coleman said he hasn't been spending a lot of time with the "mainstream media" because he's been focused on talking with delegates to win the leadership convention.
On Monday, Memorial University political scientist Steve Tomblin described Coleman's campaign — in which he became the sole contender for the PC leadership after Bill Barry's decision to shut down his candidacy last week — as a "train wreck" marred by Coleman's decision to say little about his views on numerous issues. A notable exception was a Good Friday statement on abortion.
Taylor said voters are naturally skeptical about Coleman simply because they know little about him.
"If you're not comfortable with the person, the policies become irrelevant, in my view," Taylor told the St. John's Morning Show. He said Coleman needs to get over any reticence he may have about speaking in public.
"It is politics. Whether you like it or you don't like it, that's it, and people expect it," he said.
"He needs to start talking to people and get in front of the Federation of Municipalities and boards of trade and chambers of commerce and union organizations and the Federation of Labour — whatever. Any opportunity that poses itself, presents itself, for him to speak has to be seized over the course of the next couple of months."
Coleman has been out of the province and has not been available for interviews with CBC News.
'Get out there quickly'
Ronalda Walsh, a St. John's communications strategist, agreed that Coleman has to work quickly to gain the public's trust.
"If he doesn't get out there quickly, he's going to have a bigger trench to haul himself out of," she said.
"He's definitely in a bit of a hole right now that he needs to climb out of, and to get something out there on policy."
Walsh noted that Coleman has "gone from zero to 60 very quickly" in the public eye, and is likely adjusting quickly to political realities.
"If he's not prepared to come out with a policy stance, because he's very inexperienced politically, then he needs to get out there and be visible — shake hands, kiss babies, do those kinds of things. Make a human connection that he hasn't been able to do," Walsh said.
She also noted that moving seamlessly from the business world to on-the-ground politics is a difficult skill to acquire.
"Danny Williams was very good at it. He could play with the elites, but then he could turn around and shake hands and be an Everyman," she said.