Nfld. & Labrador

Ryan Cleary 'close' to running for PCs, say party sources

Insiders say defeated New Democrat MP Ryan Cleary is expected to decide Friday whether he will join the Progressive Conservatives and seek a seat in the Nov. 30 provincial election.
Premier Paul Davis said Thursday that defeated New Democrat MP Ryan Cleary (right) would be welcomed into the Tory fold for the upcoming provincial election. (CBC)

Progressive Conservative insiders say they expect a final decision from Ryan Cleary on running for them in the upcoming election by Friday.

News broke Wednesday night that the former NDP MP had been speaking directly with Premier Paul Davis about running, a fact that Davis confirmed publicly at a news conference in Placentia Thursday.

Davis wouldn't say who initiated the talks, but said he would welcome Cleary into the PC fold.

Cleary has not been taking media calls or made any public comments since the story broke.

PC party insiders say that Cleary and Davis became close during the recent skirmish with Ottawa over CETA, the proposed trade deal between Canada and the European Union.

Davis praised Cleary at the time for his public stance in support of the provincial government's position on a controversial $400-million fisheries innovation fund.

He repeated that praise during a news conference Thursday in Placentia.

"I can tell you that Ryan Cleary went to bat for Newfoundlanders and Labradorians," said Davis. "He worked hard for us … and was head and shoulders above any other federal MP."

Davis said the CETA debate was the start of a "relationship" between the two.

"I always like the way he does business," Davis said of Cleary.

A source close to Cleary says there are a lot of policy similarities between the two, highlighted by a letter Davis sent to Prime Minister-designate Justin Trudeau this week.

Davis asked for action on five key issues: the last in, first out shrimp quota policy, better known as LIFO, CETA compensation, the reopening of the marine rescue substation in St. John's, the oil-leaking Manolis L in Notre Dame Bay, and federal tariffs on new provincial ferries that add up to $25 million.

These are all issues Cleary highlighted as an MP.

Cathy Bennett may be in Cleary's crosshairs

Party insiders say Cleary has his sights set on Winsor Lake, where he would battle Liberal MHA Cathy Bennett for the seat. They are already touting Cleary as a possible fisheries minister should the PCs win re-election.

News of the possible party switch blindsided provincial New Democrats, who were hoping to add Cleary to their provincial ticket.

Some New Democrats were already pointing to Mount Pearl-Southlands as a suddenly winnable seat should Cleary enter the race. But now NDP sources say even word of Cleary contemplating a switch has damaged the party brand.

Cleary, 48,  represented St. John's South-Mount Pearl since 2011, but was defeated by Liberal Seamus O'Regan during the Oct. 19 federal election.

Meanwhile, NDP leader Earle McCurdy said Thursday he spoke with Cleary about a potential role he might play in the provincial election, but added he never received any commitments from Cleary.

McCurdy would not comment on reports that Cleary might run for the PCs, but said the NDP door is open to the former Member of Parliament.

"I would have welcomed him to our caucus. I told him that," McCurdy said.

Cleary has not responded to a series of phone messages.

With files from David Cochrane

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