Nfld. & Labrador

David Cochrane: Inside the Judy Manning fiasco

Judy Manning's brief stint in cabinet as the longest serving unelected minister was clumsily handled, but some Tories are pointing the finger — at least in part — at Felix Collins.
Judy Manning may have been the longest serving unelected minister in the province's history, but she may be questioning whether or not to run in the upcoming provincial election after she was cut from cabinet. (CBC)

When the cabinet shuffle had ended on Thursday and everybody was clearing out of the Cochrane Room at Government House, I heard a senior Tory staffer say, "There goes Felix Collins. He's got nine lives. He will outlive us all."

The comment wasn't made with admiration. Rather, it carried with it a note of frustration with the new attorney general, as PC cabinet ministers, caucus members and senior staff are privately handing Collins a big share of the blame for the Judy Manning fiasco.

Collins had just retaken the cabinet oath as the province's new attorney general. His re-elevation to cabinet came at Manning's expense and happened just months after Collins had said he didn't want to serve in cabinet any longer, and that his political career was winding down.

In fact, multiple Tory insiders say that Collins gave strong indications last fall that he was going to quit as the MHA for Placentia-St Mary's and create the byelection opportunity unelected Manning was seeking.

Attorney General Felix Collins may be taking some of the blame for Tories for the Judy Manning fiasco. (CBC)
Collins' imminent departure was a key part of the decision-making process to appoint Manning.

Sources say that Premier Paul Davis and Collins spoke on the phone just before midnight on Sept. 29 to make sure that was still the case.

Davis was going to appoint Manning to cabinet the next morning, and he wanted to make sure the plan to appoint her and get her to run in her home district was still in place.

Clearly, it wasn't.

No good way to spin it

Collins didn't go anywhere, and nobody — not even a premier — can force an MHA to quit.

Manning was left hanging. She had already ruled out running in any of the other byelections, clinging to the defence that she didn't want to be a parachute candidate.

Was there really an agreement with Collins to quit? Or did Tory insiders simply hear what they wanted to hear in their rush to add a fresh face to the cabinet?- David Cochrane

She soon became the longest-serving unelected minister in the province's history. And when Bill 42 — the legislation to reduce the number of seats in the legislature — pushed the election into November, her expiration date passed.

There is no way to put a positive spin on Manning's short, yet record setting, tenure as the province's unelected justice minister.

The premier plucked Manning from legal obscurity and made her the province's ranking justice official. From the beginning, her appointment was mired in controversy and clumsiness that doomed it to failure unless Manning could prove to be a policy trailblazer or win a seat of her own in the legislature.

Neither of those things happened.

Manning largely disappeared from public view before the dust had even settled on her appointment.

Justice department officials have been largely complimentary of her work as minister, but there was no political bounce from her appointment. It has been nothing but baggage.

Candidate lost?

Was there really an agreement with Collins to quit? Or did Tory insiders simply hear what they wanted to hear in their rush to add a fresh face to the cabinet?

Premier Paul Davis speaks with reporters at Government House after a shuffle that saw three ministers leave his cabinet. Davis told reporters breaking the news to Judy Manning that she was cut from cabinet wasn't easy. (CBC)
The way senior party sources see it, Collins told them he was leaving and then reneged. Either way, it all highlights the clumsy execution of an already risky appointment, which ultimately blew up in their faces.

So now, months later, Felix Collins is back in cabinet — a job he refused to take last September.

His previous cabinet stint was highlighted by his disastrous and geographically-challenged (Moldova?) handling of Bill 29. But with no other lawyers in caucus, Davis had no choice but to ask Collins to serve as attorney general once more.

Collins still isn't expected to run in the next election, and the PCs may have lost their hand-picked candidate to replace him, as sources close to Manning say she is reconsidering her plan to run in the next election.

This entire ordeal has left her upset and damaged.

Felix Collins may have nine lives, but Judy Manning does not. And neither does this government.

About the Author

David Cochrane is a senior reporter in CBC's Parliamentary bureau. He previously wrote for CBC Newfoundland and Labrador.

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