A former PC cabinet minister admits Frank Coleman's entry into politics has been a rocky one, but Shawn Skinner is confident he'll bounce back.
Coleman, a Corner Brook businessman, is poised to become the province's 12th premier on July 5.
But as a relative unknown, particularly in political circles, his introduction to the public has been intermittent and awkward.
A prime example was the explanation of his pro-life position on abortion, which first came in a prepared statement, followed several days later by interviews on the polarizing issue. Coleman has since declared that he can have personal views without allowing them to influence government policy.
Skinner said it's a delicate balance.
"You have to be very self-determined or very clear about separating what is good for the people of the province, versus what you may necessarily believe or not believe in," said Skinner, a panelist on this week's edition of CBC Television's On Point.
"But that's where discussion around the table with your counterparts and constituents comes in. You need to be open-minded to accept that. And while you may or may not personally believe it's the right thing to do, you have to do what's best for the group that you are representing."
But Lana Payne said regardless of Coleman's position, he took too long to address the divisive topic.
"The impression is left that we are now having a premier that's ultra-conservative on a particular issue — an issue that's extremely important to women and others in the province. It shows that he has almost like a dinosaur attitude toward reproductive choice. And that's a problem because it could spill over into other policy areas."- Lana Payne
"And the impression is left that we are now having a premier that's ultra-conservative on a particular issue — an issue that's extremely important to women and others in the province," said Payne, an On Point panelist and Atlantic director for the national union Unifor.
"It shows that he has almost like a dinosaur attitude toward reproductive choice. And that's a problem because it could spill over into other policy areas."
Lynn Hammond, a past communications director for former premier Kathy Dunderdale, says the abortion issue highlighted Coleman's lack of political experience right out of the gate.
"It's very rare to see a [future] leader, at that level, who hasn't been involved at other senior levels, like cabinet," she said. "The fact that he wasn't prepared for that question, really it should have been anticipated. He should've been ready to deal with it, and then move on."
Skinner, meanwhile, said that's exactly where the party has been since Bill Barry dropped out of the leadership race.
He said now that it's clear Coleman will be the next PC leader and premier, the strategy has changed.
"So now he needs to define himself. He needs to start to let people know who he is, what he has been, where he is going with policy, and what his vision for the province is," said Skinner, noting that up until a week ago, Coleman was expecting a fight for the top job.
"People, I believe, will be more concerned about where he is taking the province than where he is on a personal level. And he has to get that out there so that people can start to relate or not relate to where it is he's going to take the province."
Skinner added that the party will likely reconsider its current leadership process during the upcoming convention in July.
But Payne said it will be hard for the PCs to shake the perception of a coronation that the public had no say in.
"Without a leadership race, Coleman walks into the premier's chair without having faced a democratic test of any sort whatsoever. That will be a challenge. He'll quickly have to turn the page on that ... because that's what people will be thinking – the king got crowned."