New Democrats gathering in St. John’s this weekend are saying that this time it’s different.
The NDP convention at the Battery Hotel is bigger and better organized than any previous convention in the party’s history.
“It was a pretty bare bones affair. You had the party stalwarts; lots of familiar faces,” said Jim Gill, a convention delegate. “It was almost like a high school reunion.”
This year, he said, it’s different.
“This might be four or five times what I’ve been used to seeing, certainly more professional, more organized, the materials are better, and of course, that’s all building on the results of the past election,” he said.
Around 200 people are registered for the convention.
Friday night, Leader Lorraine Michael and her caucus were called up onstage, and she received a standing ovation from party members.
New Democrats have been riding high for the past year; the October 2011 general election saw the best result in their history, winning a total of five seats and beating the Liberals in the popular vote.
Since then, the party briefly eclipsed the governing PC Party to top an Environics poll in the early summer.
“It’s a historic moment, folks. This is the largest convention of the NL NDP ever,” Michael said. “It would have been larger except for the strike that’s going on at the airport.”
Federal bigwigs and national union leaders didn’t come to St. John’s because of an ongoing strike at the airport. Flights and regular service isn’t disrupted, but NDP MPs have been flying to Gander instead and then driving to St. John’s rather than cross the picket line.
Friday evening also featured a tribute to longtime union activist and one of the central figures in Newfoundland and Labrador New Democrat politics, Nancy Riche.
Riche died last fall.
Canadian Labour Congress executive vice-president used Riche’s example as a call to action for New Democrat members.
“In her honour, I ask you to rededicate yourselves to the principles and passions of Nancy Riche,” Byers said. “Be ever vigilant, demanding and noisey. Be feisty and funny. Tell the labour movement and the social democratic movement to be bold and to be better. Don’t get discouraged too easily. Take defeat over and over again, pick up and go on. Be sure of your facts. Be charming and tough. honour and respect the people who earn it. Fight for equality every day.
Aside from the usual convention business and partisan festivities, the NDP meeting is heavily focused on growing the party consolidating the gains of the last election.
The weekend’s schedule is heavy with workshops on things like how to use social media, how to grow a district association and fundraising.
Michael is slated to give her major speech of the weekend Saturday evening.