The NDP looked poised to take a serious stab at forming the provincial government in 2015. After what seemed like an eternity as the afterthought to the afterthought in Newfoundland politics, the party had begun to assume a newfound importance in the province’s political sphere.
Polling numbers for the NDP had reached historic highs, Dunderdale’s approval ratings were tanking and the Liberals, by all accounts, were still in revival mode. After years of third-party purgatory, conditions seemed fated for the NDP’s coming of age.
Then last week happened.
It was a week when reading the news on the NDP’s troubles felt like leafing through a cheap paperback — every sentence contained a juicier bit of intrigue than the last. And as the story progressed throughout the week, more lies, betrayal and backbiting emerged.
It all started with a letter addressed to party leader Lorraine Michael. Short and sweet, there was really only one request: put the leadership to a vote before the next election to allow for “party renewal and growth in support.” At the bottom of the page were four signatures, one for every NDP MHA except Michael herself.
A caucus revolt appeared to be afoot. And how much more proof did we need? Every New Democrat in the House of Assembly had signed the letter and the media even had a copy. A mutiny was most certainly at hand.
Michael appeared shortly after the letter was made public in her typical dissenting form, opposition and disbelief being the daily routine for years. Still, it must have been a bit of a change of tack to criticize her own MHAs. No more empty complaints about how the government is out of touch here. Attacking her caucus would prove a much trickier business.
Not to worry, though. Michael laid it on thick all the same, describing how “betrayed” and “blindsided” she felt to CBC News.
Then, as if the storyline hadn’t already reached the height of political melodrama, an unforeseen twist emerged: the caucus mutiny splintered as MHA George Murphy jumped ship, reeling Michael back in while repenting his sins and laying the groundwork for fellow NDP MHA Dale Kirby to take the fall for the whole ordeal.
Honestly, I couldn’t make this stuff up if I tried.
What appeared at first to be a unanimous audit of the party’s leadership quickly fragmented into embarrassment, U-turns and bickering as whatever leadership concerns Murphy had before the letter went public evaporated. No longer a united front, the remaining NDP MHAs hastily scrambled in all directions to avoid losing any further political capital themselves.
In the end, the result of the NDP’s rebellion-that-wasn’t was a firestorm of juvenile he-said-she-said media fodder and a botched attempt at whatever leadership schemes the NDP caucus had in mind. Bitter and at odds with each other in the aftermath, the party emerged uncomfortable and embarrassed.
However, the greatest impact of the NDP’s week-that-shall-not-be-named may in fact come election time. In bungling a very public bid to challenge the party’s current leadership, the NDP may have just missed a tremendous opportunity for success in 2015.
In two years, the chances of a relatively novice political entity forming the government will be dictated by the public’s perception of its capabilities. More specifically, the NDP’s odds will be determined by its place as a viable, fresh alternative to the currently unpopular PCs and the tried-before Liberals.
The best method for NDP growth coming up to the next election may in fact have been going for a fresh face to mirror the party’s aspirations for transforming from third party in perpetuity into a new political force to be reckoned with.
Unfortunately for them, with last week’s spectacle in mind, the prospect of any leadership change, the NDP’s potential saving grace, remains in jeopardy.
Patrick Butler, who’s from Conception Bay South, is enrolled in the journalism
program at Carleton University.
He can be reached by email at