Frank Coleman was never meant to be a politician

Published on June 21, 2014
Frank Coleman.
— Photo by Joe Gibbons/The Telegram

Frank Coleman is gone. He left the political stage as quickly as he had claimed it. The businessman turned politician found himself in a unique position. No one expected that he would win the leadership of the PC party without a fight, but he did. That he would leave before spending even one day in office came as a total shock.

The photo of him which graced the front page of this paper Tuesday morning will become the iconic image of his short-lived time in politics. A solitary man walking away from a dream.  

When he took the picture, photographer Joe Gibbons could not have known it would become the iconic symbol of this intense time in the political life of the province. It appeared below a rather subdued headline which simply read, “Coleman walks away.” The award-winning photographer has an eye for this kind of work, though, and he captured a moment in time that will define Coleman’s quick exit from the political arena.  

The news conference Coleman held to announce his decision to leave was brief. He told reporters that he had to go because of pressing family matters. He did not elaborate.

“I know after this past week that I can no longer offer the undivided focus and energy that I feel would be required of me in this role,” he said. He felt that continuing would do a disservice to the PC party and the province.  

Coleman provided no information regarding the family matter that took him out of the political spotlight. He said this was one area of privacy that was his to keep and he intended to do just that. He said it was a personal family matter involving his immediate family.  

As is so often the case, the rumour mill will now fill the information void. Everything from terminal illness to shady business dealings will be trotted out to explain his sudden departure. If there is a family crisis looming, it will not be long before it’s reported by someone somewhere. Getting out in front of these things is always the best policy, but even at the time of his leaving, Coleman refused to accept the wisdom of this approach.

Let’s be honest. Frank Coleman was never meant to be a politician. He is a quiet man given more to the politics of the business deal and the boardroom than to the art of politics and the cabinet table. Why we insist that anyone who can make a lot of money is the best choice to lead our province is beyond me. Using the term “successful businessperson” to imply political competence leaves me cold. The skill sets required are completely different.

Protecting the bottom line is important, but government is all about serving people, not growing profits. I’m not sure when the idea of running government like a business took hold in this country but what it’s produced so far is a business community with more money then at any time in its history while our need for expanded public services goes without. And in the face of looming deficits and government cutbacks, we still seem to buy into the belief that cutting taxes will somehow grow the economy and create more jobs. Surely the past 10 years have put the lie to that nonsense.

Frank Coleman was a political rookie who found himself playing in some big-league politics and, to borrow a hockey metaphor, they skate faster and hit harder in the NHL then they do in the minor leagues. Some people will think he was treated unfairly and he leaves the ice bruised and beaten. That picture of him walking away, shoulders slumped, hand in pocket, oozes the word defeat. That photo tells us you shouldn’t enter the arena unless you’re prepared to play.

Amazing as it may sound, Frank Coleman’s departure will give the PCs some new life. Soon there will be a new leadership race with new faces and a convention to run with all of the excitement of a political race. The Coleman interlude will be forgotten. Maybe that’s why he appears so sad in that iconic picture of his time in the limelight.

You know who’s really sad to see him go? Dwight Ball.

Randy Simms is a political commentator and broadcaster. He can be reached at rsimms@nf.sympatico.ca.