Outsiders like Crosbie, Wakeham only hope for PC Party rebuild, says political scientist
Stephen Tomblin says baggage of Muskrat Falls, overspending weigh heavily on incumbent MHAs
The two men looking to lead the Progressive Conservative Party of Newfoundland and Labrador into the next provincial election have never before had their names on a ballot, and that's a good thing, says veteran political scientist Stephen Tomblin.
"The only people who could really have a chance in terms of turning their party fortunes around would be somebody from the outside," said Tomblin, who's been following politics in the province for 32 years as a professor at Memorial University.
Nomination deadline 6 weeks away
The party's quest to select a new leader will get more interesting on Tuesday when Tony Wakeham announces his intention to enter the race.
Wakeham, 61, most recently served as CEO of the Labrador-Grenfell regional health authority, but decided not to compete for the position when his contract expired in August. He is originally from Placentia.
He has declined interview requests in recent days, saying he'll address the media during his campaign launch on Tuesday in St. John's.
Conception Bay East-Bell Island MHA David Brazil confirmed he will manage Wakeham's campaign, though current leader Paul Davis said he is staying neutral.
"I will not be endorsing any candidate," Davis wrote in an email to CBC Monday.
With the deadline for nominations now six weeks away, and St. John's lawyer Ches Crosbie the only other hopeful to step forward, observers expect Wakeham's entry to energize what's so far been a low-key contest.
PC Party needs to reinvent itself: Tomblin
Tomblin is not surprised that both Crosbie and Wakeham are new to elected politics because they are hoping to lead a party that is saddled with "a lot of bad decisions" and "political mischief."
Tomblin said it's unlikely that anyone currently in caucus could lead a resurgence, and he believes that's largely why former PC MHA and leadership hopeful Steve Kent quit politics in September.
"They need to reinvent the party and change the public opinion in terms of the sense that you're to blame for the mess," Tomblin said.
They need to re-invent the party and change the public opinion in terms of the sense that you're to blame for the mess.- Political scientist Stephen Tomblin
And Tomblin said the last thing the PCs need is another uncontested leadership race. He said the Frank Coleman "train wreck" of three-and-a-half years ago hurt the party because it gave the impression that the "elites" held all the power.
Coleman, a prominent Corner Brook businessman, was set to become the party's leader and next premier in mid-2014, but withdrew his name as the last minute.
"There was a sense he was trying to get the position without really having to fight for that position. I don't think that played out very well," said Tomblin.
Tories dealing with a lot of baggage
The crushing financial burden of the wildly over-budget and behind-schedule Muskrat Fall hydroelectric project, and the province's dire fiscal situation, have largely been blamed on the Tories.
The party was in power when the project was approved, during a dramatic increase in public spending that is now responsible for unprecedented deficits.
The Liberals ousted the PCs from power two years ago, ending 12 years of Tory rule that reached its peak during the seven years that Danny Williams served as premier.
Now the official Opposition, the PCs are trying to rebuild ahead of the 2019 election, and resolving questions about leadership will be a big step in that process.
A competitive leadership race is vital, Tomblin said.
"Having a good debate is very good in terms of attracting attention, but I think it's also very good in terms of having informed public opinion and having candidates to actually think and rethink and to improve their performance to make sure they're actually working in the public interest," he said.
The PCs will select a new leader April 28 through a ranked ballot system, with all party members and signed-up supporters eligible to cast a vote.