ST. JOHN’S, N.L. — The leadership of Newfoundland and Labrador’s governing Progressive Conservatives was thrown into a tailspin Monday after the man who had a clear path to becoming the province’s next premier suddenly dropped out of politics.
Frank Coleman, 60, a successful businessman based in Corner Brook, said he decided to leave public life because of a “significant and challenging family matter.”
He would not elaborate at a news conference in St. John’s, saying only that a challenge arose in the past week involving a member of his immediate family.
“My first and absolute loyalty is to my family and certainly not a lust for power,” he said. “That is the one area of privacy that I have and it’s going to be the one area of privacy that I keep.”
Coleman, a political novice who has never held public office, was supposed to become leader of the party at a convention on July 5, then be sworn-in as the province’s 12th premier shortly after.
“I feel bad for the position I’ve put the party in,” he said. “It does have a bad look to it.”
Coleman said that soon after he launched his leadership bid in March, the race took many “twists and turns” as one of his two rivals was kicked out of the race and a second dropped out — all within a month — leaving him the only candidate for the job.
“It was certainly not how I envisioned winning the race,” he said.
However, he insisted he was not looking for an excuse to leave politics, repeatedly stressing that he was enjoying the job until things took a turn for the worse for his family.
“I was in this to do it for all the right reasons. I have thoroughly enjoyed meeting the people of the province that I would love to serve.”
Coleman said the party can move quickly to chose a new leader. He didn’t endorse anyone, but he said the Progressive Conservative caucus has enough talent to draw from.
The party has been in power since 2003 and began the search for a new leader in January when Kathy Dunderdale quit politics. Tom Marshall has been serving as premier on an interim basis since Dunderdale left.
Coleman has been under intense scrutiny since his wife Yvonne and other members of his family joined a pro-life march on Good Friday, as they have done for years. He later denied that his pro-life views would affect access to abortion.
He also had to defend the province’s cancellation of a Labrador highway contract without any penalty that was awarded to Humber Valley Paving. He had previously led the company but has said he sold his shares last winter and resigned from the board of directors just before entering the leadership race in March.
Coleman has repeatedly denied that he personally gained from the contract cancellation negotiated at around the same time by his son. The provincial government has said it saved taxpayers money by not calling in related bonds before retendering the work that was slowed by Labrador forest fires.
The provincial auditor general is reviewing the deal at the government’s request.
Coleman said none of those challenges had anything to do with his decision to leave public life.
His track record as head of the Coleman Group of Companies, which includes food, clothing and furniture retail businesses, saw him named Atlantic Canada’s CEO of the year by Atlantic Business Magazine in 2010. His past jobs include chief economist at Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro and he worked as a private consultant before he returned to the family business that was founded in 1934.
Coleman became the sole leadership candidate in April when fisheries magnate Bill Barry quit the race, suggesting it was stacked against him. The only other challenger, retired naval officer Wayne Bennett, was expelled for breaching party principles.