Frank Coleman coronation turning into 'train wreck,' prof says

The governing PCs are turning into the "walking dead" if Frank Coleman does not soon start explaining his vision to lead the province, political scientist Steve Tomblin says.
CBC News has learned that a paving company sold by Frank Coleman and his family in February had thousands of dollars in unpaid bills while Coleman was still at the helm. (CBC)

The governing Progressive Conservatives are turning into the "walking dead" if businessman Frank Coleman does not soon start explaining his vision to lead Newfoundland and Labrador, a political scientist says.

"What we have here is a train wreck," Steve Tomblin, a Memorial University professor who has tracked politics in the province for several decades.

Coleman, who runs a family-owned chain of grocery stores from Corner Brook, is poised to become the province's next premier following Bill Barry's decision to drop out of the PC leadership race last week.

Tomblin noted that Coleman has said very little since declaring his interest for the race, which is troubling given the problems that the Tories had under Kathy Dunderdale's leadership. On Friday, Coleman issued a statement but refused interviews on his anti-abortion beliefs, as well as his pledge that he would not impose his views on others. 

"We have somebody who is supposed to be replacing a premier who had a lack of communication skills and had challenges in terms of accountability and dealing with issues," Tomblin told the St. John's Morning Show.

"This is about transformation and renewal — you need actually to address issues, talk people. You need to present your own narrative of where we're going," said Tomblin, adding that Coleman and his supporters have not done well in explaining why Coleman should lead the province.

"But he hasn't done that. He hasn't communicated. There's this kind of sense that he has entitlement, that he has power because he has money."

He is an amateur, he hasn't got much experience with politics, and I think that's showing- Steve Tomblin

Coleman has done some media interviews and spoken with small meetings, but Tomblin called them "dog and pony shows" that do little to explain policies and an overall vision of government.

"He is an amateur, he hasn't got much experience with politics, and I think that's showing," he said.

"If he wants to really be successful, he needs to come out and control what we're talking about."

Role of Danny Williams questioned

Tomblin added that the spectre of former Tory premier Danny Williams has been hanging over Coleman's candidacy.

"The narratives now are that he is a guy put in place because of Danny Williams," said Tomblin.

Coleman has denied that he ran at the encouragement of Williams, and said he in fact contacted Williams first. Williams, for his part, has not endorsed Coleman, although he spoke out against Barry's candidacy.

Barry left the race last week saying that it was futile to consider, as he had been unable to win the support of a single member of the Tory caucus 

Meanwhile, Coleman has found himself in controversy over his support of the anti-abortion marches that happen every Good Friday outside the hospital in Corner Brook.

Coleman, who did not attend this year's protest, issued a statement saying that while he personally opposes abortion, he would not impose his views on others.

'Position of power'

Renee Dumaresque, a pro-choice activist in St. John's, said she is concerned about what effect having Coleman in the premier's office will have on public policy, including the future of the abortion clinic in St. John's.

"Given his position of power, it is likely that he will influence the views of others," she said.

"If he does do this and is successful, especially within government, then that can affect ... funding and accessibility of safe, funded abortions."

Kelly Blidook, who teaches political science at Memorial University, said voters will likely want more clarity about Coleman's views on the often-divisive issue. He noted that other leaders have held views that differ from the law.

"The biggest issue becomes what they plan to do with those views. Do those views play some kind of role or don't they?" he said.

"We certainly have had anti-abortion leaders before. I think that [in] the sort of country that we live in, people can have different views," Blidook said.