CORNER BROOK Referring to the province as “Newfoundland Inc.,” Bill Barry says the most important issue facing the province is generating cash flow and controlling expenditures.
The Corner Brook businessman, who announced his bid for leadership of the provincial Progressive Conservative party Wednesday, said Newfoundland and Labrador could use someone like him at the helm to help ensure the province takes the right path to the future.
Barry made his formal announcement to a supportive crowd that filled the Greenwood Inn and Suites ballroom.
He entered the room to the sounds of “Revolution” by The Beatles blaring over the speakers and finished to the same song and a standing ovation from his supporters.
“This is the business of Newfoundland Inc. and who are the shareholders? The taxpayers are the shareholders,” Barry said in a media scrum after the press conference.
“Whoever is elected, we are responsible to operate in the best interest of our shareholders, who are our taxpayers. It’s really that simple.”
On either side of the hotel ballroom, Barry had posters that contained the words “democracy, transparency, accountability, humility.” At the bottom of the poster was a “29” with a red stroke through it, symbolizing Barry’s disdain for Bill 29, the new privacy legislation instituted by the current provincial government.
During his speech to the crowd, Barry referred to the privacy legislation as “the most undemocratic thing I have seen in my life.” He said there are obviously some things that cannot be public knowledge, but said this legislation gives government too much control over what people are allowed to know.
“There has never been a time in my lifetime that I have seen so many people across the island that say ‘we just don’t know what’s happening, we want to know more and every time we try to find out more, somebody tells us it’s not available,’” he said. “That’s just not good enough.”
Barry made references to the public’s questioning of major government initiatives like the Muskrat Falls hydroelectricity project and the $110-million loan government has committed to Corner Brook Pulp and Paper.
He said they could possibly be great plans, but he and many others still have questions about the finer details and the benefits for the people of the province who are footing the bills.
“What I don’t know now, I’m going to know and, when I know, the people are going to know,” said Barry. “That’s important to me, or I wouldn’t be running.”
Barry said he will divest his fishing empire, the Barry Group Inc., should he be successful in winning the PC leadership. He has no idea how much support he has from within the current PC caucus.
Running for office is something Barry has contemplated for years. He was approached by the Liberal party years ago and even contemplated running for the current Liberal party when it held a leadership race last fall.
At Wednesday’s press conference, he referred to himself as a fiscal conservative and a social liberal with a bit of environmental “green” in him. After, he told the media he felt the Tories have the better team in office right now in terms of his chances of becoming premier of Newfoundland and Labrador.
“My view ... was the talent pool I could best pick from to run a good government, they were there in the Tory party and they needed a bit of Bill Barry, or somebody like me,” he said. “They needed a bit of good leadership.”
Barry is an outspoken person and said his family and friends have urged him to tone it down if he is to become a politician. He said that won’t happen and that it was important for him to continue speaking his mind on any issue that comes up.
That unapologetic attitude, he added, is something that was fostered in him during his 40 years around the fishery and the tough times he has seen people endure.
“I don’t want to be unreal for anybody,” he said. “If you ask me a question, I’m going to give you a straight answer ... It’s kind of hard for me to turn mellow yellow now. It’s just not in me.”
Barry said he has not given any thought yet to where he would run for a seat in the legislature should he win the Tory leadership race, which is expected to be decided in about four months from now.
Bill Barry acknowledges the crowd gathered at the Greenwood Inn and Suites Wednesday for his announcement that he is seeking the leadership of the provincial Progressive Conservative party.
©Star photo by Geraldine Brophy