Rezori: How the media gave Frank Coleman a political lesson

The questions that Frank Coleman faced about his views on abortion are just the start of the grilling the premier-to-be can expect from the media, Azzo Rezori writes.

And a-hunting they go: the abortion issue told us a few things about our next premier

Frank Coleman maintains he will not impose his beliefs on abortion on anyone else. (CBC)

It's all in good blood-sport tradition when a man ventures out of the decency of his private life into the indecency of public politics and finds himself run down as easy quarry.

Abortion is a complex issue. The only common ground between the dissenting sides (if they even want such a thing) is compromise. This is well understood by everybody, though not half as much practised as it could be.

So here's Frank Coleman, and he turns out to be anti-abortion. And because he is the premier-to-be, it's only fair that he should be asked to put his views and his possible biases on the record.

In the case of issues as explosive and divisive as abortion, there's a risk, of course. The very request for Coleman to explain himself might leave the impression that he's already guilty. There is such a thing as the right to hold your own views no matter how much they might grate the views of others, but when the chase is on even difference of view becomes fair pursuit.

Frank Coleman's wife Yvonne and other family members attended the annual Good Friday march outside Western Memorial Regional Hospital in Corner Brook. (Colleen Connors/CBC)

Had the chase come from political opponents, the media would have identified it instantly and correctly as opportunism.

But that's not how it originated. The chase started with the media themselves, specifically the CBC which knew Coleman and his family had participated in past anti-abortion marches, expected him to be at last week's march in Corner Brook, and went there to put him on the spot, so to speak. 

Most politicians, certainly the smart ones, know there's nothing but unproductive discord to be gained from stirring the hornet's nest of abortion.

Which is not to say that abortion shouldn't be debated. It should be debated for all kinds of reasons. As a matter of badly needed public policy. As a challenge to the federal government's feckless dithering in the face of an undeniably intractable controversy. Also, if nothing else, as a valuable exercise in practising consensus on difficult matters. 

Getting the stories crossed

But flushing the future premier out as an anti-abortionist and then running him down because, politically untrained as he is, he doesn't play the game or doesn't know how to yet, is getting two stories crossed — the story of abortion itself, and Coleman's puzzling reluctance to step into the limelight that awaits him as a public figure. 

He's really been silent about who he is and what his policies are, on many issues. He may have unshakable faith in his own solid character, and those who know him may share that faith with him.

But it's entirely reasonable for people to expect their next premier to open up to them a bit, to show them who he is, what he thinks, where he's coming from on the important issues of the times, maybe even what some of his flaws are. Just allowing himself to be the lightning rod that grounds out and eliminates Bill Barry from the Tory leadership race is not enough.

It was as good a chase as they get.

It's entirely reasonable for people to expect their next premier to open up to them a bit, to show them who he is, what he thinks, where he's coming from on the important issues of the times.

Backed into a corner of his own making, Coleman had no choice but to face his pursuers and get them off his back with a public statement that he would never force his anti-abortion views on the government he may end up leading.

A no-brainer, really. Government policies have never been the exclusive call of a premier. They have to be discussed and approved by the cabinet first and then make it through debate in the House of Assembly, where the guns of the opposition will be waiting and the media will be recording the casualties. 

Why would a Tory government already nearing the end of its life expectancy start an abortion war? To risk it all? Hardly.

A new champion

Coleman entered the scene as the white champion, honorable and without blemish. All he had to do was step gracefully in front of that image and let himself be seen in real person.

In the story of Lohengrin, the knight in the white shining armour agrees to save the damsel and marry her to boot on the condition that she never asks him who he really is and whence he came. After a few years of biting her tongue she asks him anyway, and Lohengrin, the white knight, leaves and disappears back in the mists of goodness.

If Coleman decides to stay, he'll have to stay for the questions as well.

All indications are, they've only just started.

About the Author

Azzo Rezori


Azzo Rezori has been working with CBC News in Newfoundland and Labrador since 1987, and reports regularly for Here & Now and other broadcasts.