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Newfoundland Tory contender’s exit leaves single candidate unopposed

Bill Barry, shown in 2007, issued a statement on April 17, 2014, that outlined his reasons for abandoning his bid for the Newfoundland Progressive Conservative Party leadership and deciding to return to private business.

GERALDINE BROPHY/The Globe and Mail

A contender in the race to become leader of Newfoundland and Labrador's Progressive Conservative Party dropped out Thursday, likely clearing the way for a coronation of the one remaining candidate.

Bill Barry issued an early-morning statement that outlined his reasons for abandoning the bid and returning to private business, saying he made the decision after what he described as serious personal reflection.

Barry said he did not receive support from any caucus members, making him feel he was playing against a "stacked deck" with a preordained outcome.

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"As of now not a single member of caucus has seen fit to place support in my direction," he wrote. "I am encouraged to continue but I have to ask … why would I and why am I being encouraged?"

He added that his ideas were not being heard by the party, saying "my message of concern for our future appears to fly in the face of many recent policy decisions."

The fisheries magnate said he will return to private business as CEO of the Barry Group of companies.

That leaves Frank Coleman as the sole leadership candidate after Kathy Dunderdale resigned as premier in January and the deadline for nomination papers closed last month. Tom Marshall replaced her on an interim basis until a new leader was to be chosen at a two-day convention starting July 4 in St. John's.

Marshall said he was disappointed to hear about Barry's decision.

"We were looking forward to a full and contested leadership race," he said in a statement. "Both Mr. Barry and Mr. Coleman were great candidates, and I wish Mr. Barry well."

Tommy Williams, co-chairman of the party leadership convention committee, said officials will have to decide whether to go ahead with the meeting of delegates.

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"It's a little early in the game. … Obviously it won't be a contested convention, but we do have a date set to proceed," he said, adding they will likely issue a decision next week.

Another contender, Wayne Bennett, was disqualified after the party's rules committee found that he made discriminatory comments on Twitter and failed to uphold party principles.

Bennett and Barry had both questioned early on whether the bid to replace Dunderdale would be much of a contest, suggesting Coleman had a lock on the leadership.

Several cabinet ministers who considered running for the top job ultimately counted themselves out, fuelling speculation that caucus and party backing had coalesced around Coleman, whose business interests include a chain of grocery and furniture stores.

Williams dismissed the suggestion.

"I don't think that's a fair comment," he said. "The leader of the party would be selected by 800-plus delegates at a convention had it been a contested race, so to suggest that it has been chosen by a small group of MHAs is not fair."

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Barry said he and Coleman, who is godfather to one of Barry's daughters, have been friends since they were in high school in Corner Brook.

Under provincial law, an election must be called within 12 months of the new Tory leader being sworn in as premier.

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