Newfoundland and Labrador NDP to regroup after messy leadership flap

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ST. JOHN'S, N.L. - Newfoundland and Labrador's NDP caucus will try to regroup in weekend meetings starting Friday after a spectacular public meltdown of leadership doubts, recriminations and regrets.

The big question is whether the third-place party's exercise in foot blasting has wrecked its credibility and nixed recent momentum, said Kelly Blidook, a political scientist at Memorial University of Newfoundland.

"It just looks like a huge, huge mistake and a blow-up of a party that looked to be doing fine," he said in an interview Thursday.

"For me personally, it makes them look like a party that is not ready to govern."

Fissures in the five-person caucus split wide open earlier this week after NDP Leader Lorraine Michael received an emailed letter signed by all four of her members.

It called for a leadership convention next year to help the party build on encouraging polls and challenge the Opposition Liberals and ruling Progressive Conservatives. Such a convention could only be held under the party's constitution if Michael resigned or if a significant percentage of the executive or party demanded she step down.

The letter delivered Sunday was leaked to the media, and Michael publicly responded on Monday by saying she felt blindsided and betrayed.

Things got stranger as two of her four caucus members, Gerry Rogers and George Murphy, expressed regret at how the leadership issue was handled. Murphy went so far as to say he thought he was merely supporting a review process that would endorse Michael, and accused fellow caucus member Dale Kirby of pressuring him to sign it.

Kirby denied any such tactics and, along with caucus member Chris Mitchelmore, stood by the call for a fresh contest at the top.

Michael's spokeswoman Jean Graham said all five caucus members will attend meetings Friday and Saturday at an undisclosed location. Michael may meet with media or release a statement after those talks but members have agreed to stop talking publicly before then, Graham said Thursday.

In an open letter she sent to party members Tuesday, Michael thanked them for their support during what she described as an "unfortunate event."

"I believe the caucus is committed to continue building the party and our presence in the House of Assembly," Michael wrote.

"I hope that process will continue. We continue to be encouraged by public opinion polls, by rising numbers of new members and financial contributions, and the new district associations and other signs of growth around the province."

Blidook said the party's self-imposed cone of silence comes a little late. He described the NDP infighting as a bizarre spectacle that will benefit their Tory and Liberal rivals ahead of the next provincial vote in 2015.

"Right now it looks like a gift wrapped with a big bow for both the other parties, and all they have to do is just sit there and accept it."

Blidook said another big problem is the NDP's lack of a regulated leadership review process, short of an all-out convention, to curb internal power struggles and affirm party direction.

Michael is a former Roman Catholic nun and social activist who was elected NDP leader in 2006. She was the sole New Democrat in a Tory-dominated legislature after the 2007 election until the party broke through with five seats in 2011, compared to six seats for the Liberals and 37 for the Progressive Conservatives.

Premier Kathy Dunderdale's government has been battered in recent surveys of voter approval while a resurgent Liberal party is set to choose a new leader next month.

Noah Davis-Power, 20, ran unsuccessfully for the provincial NDP in 2011 and quit last May as the youth representative on the party's executive. He wants to make another run in future for the Liberals, he said Thursday.

"The rumblings for leadership are not new," he said of the NDP. "There were backroom talks constantly about leadership review but it was never brought to any light."

Davis-Power said that while he campaigned in the district of Conception Bay South in 2011, voters at the doors repeatedly said Michael lacks the charisma to form government.

"They don't see her as premier material."

Organizations: Progressive Conservatives, Memorial University of Newfoundland

Geographic location: ST. JOHN'S, Newfoundland and Labrador

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  • bye
    October 25, 2013 - 13:38

    The MHAs do have valid concerns, her age and qualifications among them. * Lorraine only got the leadership position because no one of substance really wanted it after Jack Harris ran federally. She really only got 5 MHAs elected because of the anti-PC protest vote, an obliterated Liberal Party, and the Jack Layton sympathy vote after he passed away. In this time of intense negotiations, people need to ask if they really want someone whose political management ability is just plain luck. * Lorraine is a former radical Nun with her only real experience being a left-wing political activist. Most Premiers/Prime Minsters have a better claim to fame. Dunderdale has experience and a political powerhouse. It looks like the new Liberal leader will have a good business background. In this booming province, people really need to ask which one of these three leaders have the best qualifications. * Lorraine is now 70 years old. By election day she will be pushing 73. The vast majority of Premiers/Prime Minsters are elected well below this age. The current record holders are Charles Fox Bennett born 1793 (Newfoundland Primer Minster in 1870) and Charles Tupper born 1821 (interim Canadian Prime Minster in 1896). If elected, by the time her first term as Premier is over she will be pushing 77. In this vibrant province, people need to ask if they really want a Premier who is nearly 80 years old.