Former lieutenant governor John Crosbie says he's disappointed how the Progressive Conservative leadership race has been handled, particularly how it has effectively been handed to businessman Frank Coleman.
"This is unheard of," Crosbie said in an interview Monday, slamming how the Tories are allowing a political neophyte to lead not just the party but the province.
"I've been involved in politics most of my life, and a very keen student of politics … and I haven't heard of a leadership convention before where it's so uncompetitive that only one person, and that one person with no experience in politics, becomes the sole person left to be declared the leader of the party," Crosbie said.
"It's an astonishing and disappointing fact."
Coleman is set to become the next premier of Newfoundland and Labrador in early July. He was acclaimed for the PC leadership after Bill Barry dropped out of the race in April while claiming that he could not win against what he called "a stacked deck."[Wayne Bennett was previously booted from the leadership race by the PC Party's rules committee for discriminatory comments he made on Twitter.]
'They [the Liberals] haven't given much attention to policy, because naturally they're just waiting for it to fall into their hands because the other main party [PC Party] is committing hara-kari' - John Crosbie
Crosbie said he knows Coleman to be an able businessman and hopes that he'll be a good premier for the province, but added that he doubts whether Coleman has the political skills to pull off the job.
"It's a job that requires tremendous political skills and experience because politics is a tough business," he said.
"It's not a tea party, it's a struggle for power, and the result is that politics, there's a lot of vicious activities in it behind the scenes and so on, so it's very surprising."
The man behind the curtain
Crosbie said other candidates were actively discouraged from continuing in the race to be the next premier, and blamed behind-the-scenes activity for suppressing the aspirations of potential candidates.
Among the chief culprits, Crosbie said former premier Danny Williams played a big role in applying pressure to other people who may have been interested in vying for the province's top job.
"He [Williams] has continued to be very active in the political scene behind the scenes, as everybody who's involved in politics at all knows, and he's had a lot of influence with respect to what happened in the so-called leadership convention."
"It's a so-called leadership convention because it's not a convention. The leader has been selected because nobody else would run, and anybody else who wanted to run, pressure was put on them not to run, told that if they did run they had no chance of being elected, etc. This is not the usual kind of activity one encounters in a democratic activity."
Over the weekend, Crosbie said the happenings behind the leadership convention were "skullduggery."
"[When I said skullduggery] I mean that behind the scenes influencing of people, and actively discouraging people from running who might otherwise be running is, I think, a serious kind of activity not to be encouraged, and I'm very sorry to see that it has happened and people who might otherwise have run," he said.
In a short statement, Williams rejected Crosbie's claims.
"I am at a loss to understand where Mr. Crosbie is coming from," Williams said.
"I had calls from a number of caucus and cabinet who were interested in the leadership. And I encouraged all of them to get involved and run if they felt they wanted to take on that role. In fact, I even accepted a meeting with Mr. Crosbie's son some time ago who expressed an interest in running and also encouraged him."
Success of party up in the air
Crosbie said political events over the recent months have been "very damaging" for the Tory party, and will have a big impact on the political climate across the province.
"It's injurious not just to the PC party, but to the whole political process in Newfoundland. The Liberal party, for example, nobody really knows, in my opinion, what their policy is. They haven't given much attention to policy, because naturally they're just waiting for it to fall into their hands because the other main party is committing hari-kari," said Crosbie.
He said he's not certain the party will bounce back before the next election rolls around.
"Whether it's correctable now or not is going to depend very much on our new premier and how well he does and how quickly he gets political experience and acts to rejuvenate the party and encourage all sections of the party to come forward to help. It'll all depend now on how good his leadership is."
Crosbie added he has no intentions of attending the leadership convention in July.