Michael sets sights on advocacy as way to rebuild NDP
Party faithful vote 75 per cent to endorse leadership
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.”