Nfld. & Labrador

Paul Davis's political return sparks Conservative Party turmoil

The former premier's decision to run in the Avalon riding isn't making all Conservatives happy, sparking resignations and a leave of absence within party ranks.

President of the Avalon Conservative Association stepping aside from party role

Former Newfoundland and Labrador premier Paul Davis is re-entering the political sphere, this time vying to be the federal Conservative candidate for the Avalon riding. (Mark Quinn/CBC)

Former premier Paul Davis has announced his decision to re-enter politics, this time at the federal level — but that move isn't welcome news to some members of the Conservative Party of Canada, with some local riding executives stepping away from their duties because of it.

On Thursday night, Davis posted on Facebook that he will seek the party's nomination in the riding of Avalon in a future general election. Early Friday morning, Chris Power, the president of the Avalon Conservative Association, made an announcement of his own: that as Davis didn't notify party executives first prior to posting, Power was stepping aside from his party duties, at least temporarily.

"I strongly feel that he should have first given notice to CPC nominating committee before any public announcement was made," Chris Power said in a letter to fellow members of the association board.

In an interview with CBC News, Power said others on the board feel similarly and some executives have resigned, although he said Davis was not required to give a heads-up to the party before making his announcement.

"That's your people on the ground, and the general consensus [is] that if we're on the ground, that our opinion should matter, you know, and it didn't seem like it really did," Power said Friday.

Chris Power, the president of the Avalon Electoral District Association for the Conservative Party of Canada, is taking a leave of absence from his duties in the wake of Davis's announcement he will run for candidacy in the riding. (Chris Power)

Power himself has decided on a temporary leave of absence from his role while the nomination process is underway, as Power said he and other executive members support the other candidate, Matthew Chapman, over Davis.

"We just thought at this time that we'd be better served with fresh blood. And we frankly didn't think experience as a provincial politician was necessarily a positive thing right now," said Power, who said he will be taking a "very active role" campaigning for Chapman during his leave.

'Airing their dirty laundry'

Davis departed politics in November 2018, and in his resignation announcement at the time said he had no intention of running federally. But on Friday, Davis said the last six months — with troubles besieging small businesses and large industries, particularly oil and gas, as well as the omnipresent uncertainty — changed his mind.

"Someone needs to step up to the plate. I just can't sit by any longer," he told CBC News.

"There's no plan to fix it. We don't even hear any empathy or concern being communicated by our MPs in Ottawa."

Davis said he's had positive discussions with the local party ranks about running, and was caught off guard by their reaction to his announcement.

"Many of them are supporters of the other candidate. So it's not unusual … for a candidate to have their own supporters on a district association. It happens provincially, it happens federally, it's not unique to Avalon," he said.

"I'm a little bit surprised that they're airing their dirty laundry publicly, or their views on that, because some of them have been open arms welcoming and encouraged me to be in the process."

A grassroots revival

Chapman, the other candidate, said he's open to the competition.

"I wish Paul nothing but the best, and I've told him that. I believe that the membership and people of Avalon are going to recognize that I ran when nobody else would," he said.

Chapman ran in the 2019 general election and lost to Liberal Ken McDonald, who has been the riding's MP since 2015. In that race Chapman garnered significant support, capturing 31 per cent of the vote, compared with McDonald's 46 per cent.

Matthew Chapman ran for the Conservative Party of Canada in the 2019 federal election and lost, and is running again for the party's nomination in the Avalon riding. (Matthew Chapman)

Chapman credited that to grassroots support, as he and a few dedicated volunteers spent the last year rebuilding the Conservative Party's base in the riding.

"I've spoken to all of people who are upset, because they've recognized I've literally put hundreds of hours of work into rebuilding this," he said.

"People had the opportunity to run and turned it down, people had the opportunity to get involved and rebuild their association, and they didn't."

In the last year, the party's grassroots in the Avalon have grown, added Power, to an executive board of 25 people with more than 280 party members, but Davis's announcement and its resulting inner turmoil could prove to be a setback for the party.

"It's sad because we had a number of initiatives that we were working through as a district that now all has to be put on hold," said Power.

The call for nominations in the riding is still open, and Davis said the party would give two weeks' notice before it closes and the candidate election process kicks in.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from Mark Quinn

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