Gerry Rogers has become the first openly gay leader of a political party in Newfoundland and Labrador’s history.
Rogers married her longtime partner Peg Norman this summer after 25 years together.
“She’s steadfast, brilliant, patient. Oh, so patient,” said Rogers.
“It was the happiest day of my life. The day where I was so sure that this was the right thing to do. Not only did I marry an incredible woman, and incredible partner, I married someone who’s part of the love army.”
Norman chuckled at the comment, but nodded from the crowd as Rogers accepted her election as leader of the New Democratic Party of Newfoundland and Labrador.
Of the 2,600 members of the NL NDP, 1,450 cast their ballots in the leadership election. Rogers won 67 per cent of that vote, with MUN economist Alison Coffin taking 33 per cent of the vote.
For Coffin, the results exceeded her expectations. She says she’s looking forward to 2019.
“You know they want me. I had a really good speech, great ideas. I’m sure there’s ample opportunity for me to run for a seat,” she said.
Outgoing interim-leader Lorraine Michael says she would have been happy with any result of the leadership race and she looks forward to working with Coffin in the future as well.
Michael says she hasn’t made up her mind about whether her name will appear on a ballot in 2019.
“One thing I’ve learned in politics, you can’t make long-term decisions — not when it comes to your political status. Let’s see what it’s like in a year’s time,” she said.
In a year’s time, Gerry Rogers will be looking to steer a party consistently stuck in third place. Recent Corporate Research Associates polling has shown the party consistently with between 19 per cent and 26 per cent support from the public since February 2017.
A high-water mark of five seats in 2011 was later met with a caucus revolt that brought the seats down to three. In 2015, the party came down to two seats in the legislature.
Part of the problem has been connecting with rural voters.
Rogers says building relationships is the key to expanding her party’s support.
“That, I believe, is one of my strengths. Reaching out and inviting people to work together, regardless of their political stripes,” she said.
“We have to talk about issues that are relevant to people’s lives. The challenge is that we don’t have a lot of money, so we have to do something about that.”
Rogers is right on the money.
While the party saw the most individual donations of any party ahead of the 2015 election, the NDP raised $446,622, the least of the three major parties.
While the party raised $330,000 from union support, only $16,800 came from business. Rogers says that’s one area she’ll seek to improve.
“There are a lot of businesses that do great work here in the province that are aligned with the same values that we have. I’m a small business owner — myself and my partner are,” she said.
“There are local small businesses that are doing incredible work and they want our province to succeed.”