NDP Leader Lorraine Michael addressed her party’s platform on eliminating the tax on tax for gasoline and diesel fuel Wednesday morning at the North Atlantic gas station on Elizabeth Avenue in St. John’s. — Photo by Joe Gibbons/The Telegram
Lorraine Michael, the diminutive but fiery former nun who leads the Newfoundland and Labrador New Democrats, paused when asked what success will mean for her in Tuesday’s provincial election.
“Having more than Lorraine Michael in the house of assembly,” she said to laughs from reporters as she prepared for the final push towards what she hopes will be historic gains for the party.
Michael was the lone New Democrat in a starkly lopsided legislature that included four Liberals and 43 Progressive Conservatives at dissolution.
“Being re-elected myself,” Michael, 68, continued.
“Seeing that people do believe what we’re telling them: That we will bring their voice into the house of assembly.”
Michael said the greatest proof of that faith will be if her share-the-wealth message sees more New Democrats elected than ever before, vaulting the party to Official Opposition status over the Liberals for the first time.
Expectations for a crash through the party’s previous ceiling of two provincial seats are running high. Anything less could smack of defeat.
“I’m gunning for every seat,” Michael said. “People are telling us that they want us to represent them in the house of assembly. If that didn’t come through, if people didn’t show that in the ballot box, that would be a big disappointment.”
Recent polls have consistently suggested that the Tories led by Kathy Dunderdale are set for an easy win Tuesday. But they have also suggested a tripling of popular support for the NDP in recent months as Liberal popularity has faded, putting Michael in contention for Opposition leader if that momentum translates into more seats.
It would be a historic tilt in a province where power has shifted between Conservative and Liberal powerhouses led by the likes of Danny Williams, Clyde Wells and Joey Smallwood.
“It’s Time,” is the NDP platform, a document rife with health care and social spending promises to better distribute the offshore oil wealth that has helped fill provincial coffers.
Pollster Derek Leebosh of Environics Research Group is predicting a political realignment in Newfoundland and Labrador.
“It’s a miniature version of what happened at the federal level in May,” he said.
The Orange Crush surge of NDP support in the federal election that battered the Liberals and lifted the late Jack Layton to Opposition leader will likely be felt here, he said.
In the St. John’s region, NDP MPs Jack Harris and Ryan Cleary won with impressive margins, Leebosh said.
“That’s a huge number of people who have gotten into the habit of putting their X beside an NDP candidate. Granted, it was federal, but it does kind of predispose people to go the same way provincially.”
Provincial New Democrats could pick up seats on the northeast Avalon peninsula, which includes St. John’s, if that support transfers to provincial candidates, Leebosh said.
The party has also focused efforts on ridings such as Labrador West, which has been New Democrat in the past, and Burin-Placentia West, where there is anger over Tory handling of the fishery and a major shipyard.
Leebosh believes the NDP is helped by the “disarray” of the Liberals led by Kevin Aylward, an 11th-hour replacement for Yvonne Jones, who stepped aside in August as she recovers from breast cancer.
“Basically, Lorraine Michael and the NDP are sort of filling that vacuum,” Leebosh said.
Liberal MP Gerry Byrne scoffs at poll-fuelled speculation that his provincial cousins could fail to build on their four seats, or even lose ground.
“It’s punditry by those that are trying to create a self-fulfilling prophecy, which they will fail at,” he said in an interview.
“You’re going to see a Liberal Party of Newfoundland and Labrador which has more seats in the house of assembly not only than it currently has, but than most of the pundits were projecting.”