Michael sets sights on ad­vo­cacy as way to rebuild NDP

Party faith­ful vote 75 per cent to en­dorse lead­er­ship

The Southern Gazette - - EDITOR’S VIEWPOINT - BY JAMES MCLEOD TC ME­DIA St. John’s Tele­gram

Lor­raine Michael re­ceived a vote of con­fi­dence from the New Demo­cratic Party mem­ber­ship dur­ing its bi­en­nial con­ven­tion in St. John’s May 16-18.

When pressed, mem­bers of the party would ac­knowl­edge that a tremen­dous amount of dam­age was done in the past sev­eral months as a re­sult of the messy, bit­ter, pub­lic cau­cus re­volt that called Ms. Michael’s lead­er­ship into ques­tion.

But true to the con­ven­tion theme of “Mov­ing For­ward” ev­ery New Demo­crat who spoke to The Tele­gram wanted to talk about pre­par­ing for the next elec­tion and the ef­forts to ex­pand the party.

The turnout was smaller than in 2012, the last time the NDP held a provin­cial con­ven­tion. Two years ago, 165 people turned out, whereas this time around 125 people par­tic­i­pated.

They were there, mostly, to vote on Ms. Michael’s lead­er­ship.

Af­ter the four other MHAs in the NDP cau­cus signed a let­ter call­ing her lead­er­ship into ques­tion, the party or­ga­nized a venue to put that propo­si­tion to a vote.

Of the people who cast bal­lots, 75 per cent voted to keep Ms. Michael as leader.

Speak­ing to the me­dia af­ter­wards, she said she be­lieves that’s a strong enough en­dorse­ment that it should put the whole un­pleas­ant episode be­hind the party.

But the cau­cus re­volt and subse- quent in­fight­ing has been dis­as­trous for the New Democrats. Last sum­mer they were at 33 per cent in the polls; the most re­cent num­bers avail­able, from March, put the party at 13 per cent among de­cided vot­ers.

Speak­ing from the podium a cou­ple hours be­fore the lead­er­ship vote, Ms. Michael took some re­spon­si­bil­ity for what went wrong.

“Did we make mis­takes? Yes. Maybe the most se­ri­ous was un­der­es­ti­mat­ing how hard the path to govern­ment re­ally is, and the dif­fer­ent dy­nam­ics that get put in play as stakes be­come higher,” she told del­e­gates. “Did I make mis­takes? Yes. Maybe the most se­ri­ous was not to hear con­cerns in the cau­cus and the party on how to move for­ward. I missed the trees for the for­est.”

In her speech to the party faith­ful, Ms. Michael also spent a good chunk of time talk­ing about the ac­com­plish­ments they’ve been able to achieve, even as the small­est cau­cus in the leg­is­la­ture.

Ms. Michael, on be­half of the NDP, took credit for a mora­to­rium on frack­ing, move-over leg­is­la­tion, adding trans­gen­dered people to the hu­man rights code and whistle­blower leg­is­la­tion - all is­sues that the gov­ern­ing Pro­gres­sive Con­ser­va­tive party has en­acted, but the NDP has pushed for.

“With per­sis­tence and fo­cus, con­fi­dence and strength, we New Democrats get things done,” Ms. Michael said.

Within the con­ven­tion hall, the spirit of de­bate seemed to em­brace that tra­di­tion of ad­vo­cacy from the party’s left-wing roots, as op­posed to a more cen­trist, mod­er­ate mes­sage tai­lored to win­ning power.

“CETA and evil have both got four letters, and to me they’re both the same,” party ex­ec­u­tive mem­ber Wayne Lu­cas said dur­ing de­bate on a pol­icy de­bate on free trade.

“To­gether, we will say that if gov­ern­ments are tak­ing away our rights, then it will be at their peril,” Mary Shor­tall, pres­i­dent of the New­found­land and Labrador Fed­er­a­tion of Labour said Fri­day evening as the con­ven­tion kicked off. “Gov­ern­ments can leg­is­late away our rights, but they can never leg­is­late away our anger, our de­ter­mi­na­tion and our sol­i­dar­ity. Only we can give that away, and I don’t know about you, but I’m not pre­pared to let that hap­pen with­out a fight.”

Sheilagh O’Leary, who ran for the party and came third in the re­cent Vir­ginia Wa­ters by­elec­tion, said a fo­cus on win­ning is im­por­tant, but it’s not ev­ery­thing.

“I don’t think you have to be on the win­ning team in or­der to make change hap­pen, but I think it’s re­ally im­por­tant that we strive for that,” she said. “Whether or not the NDP is in a leading role or in op­po­si­tion, hav­ing that voice there is ex­tremely im­por­tant.”

Ms. Michael used the con­ven­tion to an­nounce the kick­off of the party’s next big cam­paign: a con­certed ef­fort to get the min­i­mum wage raised.

She said the party plans to keep or­ga­niz­ing for next year’s elec­tion, and aims to have a can­di­date in each of the prov­ince’s 48 elec­toral districts.

But when it comes to re­gain­ing pub­lic con­fi­dence, she said it’s the min­i­mum wage cam­paign that will show vot­ers what the party is all about.

“Our goal now is to con­tinue let­ting the people of this prov­ince know who we are as a party. We are a party that’s there for the people of the prov­ince,” she said. “We know that people are con­cerned about the min­i­mum wage and the fact that it’s so low and that there isn’t a change. We’ll be us­ing that as the way to show people that we re­ally do care about them.”

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