Tony Wakeham launches PC leadership quest with promises of new ideas, rebuilding confidence in party
Former health board CEO wants to end tradition of giving governments a second term by beating Liberals in 2019
Tony Wakeham says he's ready to bring his experience in public service, private business and sports into the political arena, and help end the tradition of guaranteeing governments in Newfoundland and Labrador a second term in office.
"Today is the day that I step up to challenge the theory that governments get a free pass on a second term," Wakeham told a crowd of about 80 supporters in Portugal Cove-St. Philip's on Tuesday night.
With that, Wakeham, 61, became the second person to step forward officially and challenge for the leadership of the PC Party, setting the stage for a showdown with high-profile St. John's lawyer Ches Crosbie, though there is still six weeks to go before the close of nominations.
New leader to be selected April 28
The party will select a new leader April 28 through a one-member-one-vote ranked ballot system.
Like Crosbie, Wakeham is new to elected politics, a scenario that many observers say is the only hope for the party as it tries to rebuild after being thrown out of power by Premier Dwight Ball and the Liberals two years ago.
Wakeham said he's ready to roll up his sleeves and convince voters that the Tories are a credible alternative leading up to the next election in 2019, despite some heavy baggage like the controversial Muskrat Falls hydroelectric project and a dramatic increase in public spending that many blame for today's dire fiscal situation.
Though short on specifics, Wakeham promised clear, creative solutions to the many challenges facing the province.
"I am committed to being direct, and honest on issues, which may not always be easy," he said.
"People in our province are asking for truth and clarity, and I am prepared to be that kind of leader. I am prepared to take on tough issues and make decisions which may be unpopular, but necessary. I will not be afraid to challenge the status quo."
Tuesday's event revealed that Wakeham has some support from the PC caucus, with Conception Bay East-Bell Island MHA David Brazil signing on as his campaign co-chair, and Cape St. Francis MHA Kevin Parsons also giving his endorsement.
An unknown on the political scene
Wakeham grew up in Placentia and studied economics at Memorial University. He wife's name is Patricia and they have two adult children.
He is an unknown on the political scene, but has a varied background that has taken him from the boardroom and the basketball court to private business. He's also lived in many regions of the province, and says this makes him an ideal candidate to lead the party.
"Wherever we live in this amazing province of ours, I know that important discussions need to take place to find a path forward which considers our unique identity and culture, but also considers the challenges we face," he said.
"But somewhere in those challenges I know there are opportunities waiting to be found."
Up until August, Wakeham was CEO at the Labrador-Grenfell regional health authority, but decided not to reapply for the position after his contract expired.
He also worked in senior health management roles in St. John's, Clarenville and Grand Falls-Windsor.
It's taken me a long time to get to today because obviously this is not something you just simply wake up and decide to do.- Tony Wakeham
He took a break from public service at one point in his career to become an entrepreneur, overseeing a business that operated about a dozen fast-food franchises in St. John's, employing nearly 200 people.
Wakeham, who now lives in Kippens, has deep roots in the sport of basketball, both as a player and coach at the provincial and federal levels.
He was approached about entering politics shortly after leaving public service, and plans to run in the Liberal-held district of Stephenville-Port au Port whenever an election is called.
"It's taken me a long time to get to today because obviously this is not something you just simply wake up and decide to do," he said.