N.L. NDP head calls for leadership vote after caucus infighting
N.L. NDP leader Lorraine Michael gives an interview at home in St. John's, N.L. in this file photo taken on Sept. 13, 2011. (THE CANADIAN PRESS / Paul Daly)
Published Saturday, October 26, 2013 10:06AM EDT
Last Updated Saturday, October 26, 2013 4:13PM EDT
ST. JOHN'S, N.L. -- The head of Newfoundland and Labrador's New Democratic Party is calling for a leadership review next year after an emailed push for her resignation led to a messy week of caucus infighting.
All five members of the third-party caucus gathered Saturday for talks after leadership tensions erupted in public.
NDP Leader Lorraine Michael now says she'll ask the provincial NDP executive to include a leadership review vote at the party's convention next year.
"I'm putting all of this in the hands of the membership and asking the membership to decide whether or not they want me as their leader going into 2015," Michael, a 70-year-old former nun, told reporters.
"You move on by not being vindictive. You move on by saying: 'We need to work together."'
What Michael has called an "unfortunate event" began when she returned from vacation last Sunday to find an emailed letter signed by all four of her caucus teammates.
It asked for a leadership convention next year to renew the party, a move that would require Michael to resign.
The letter was leaked to the media. Michael went public, saying she felt blindsided and betrayed.
Two of her caucus members, Gerry Rogers and George Murphy, have since expressed regret about how the matter was handled. The other two, Dale Kirby and Chris Mitchelmore, have stuck by their call for a fresh contest at the top.
Murphy at one point accused Kirby of intimidation to pressure him into signing the letter. Kirby denied any such tactics, and said each signatory knew what was intended.
Michael appeared alone Saturday to say the caucus is still intact with no resignations and that she wants to work with all four members.
Michael stressed that she wants a clear mandate ahead of the next provincial vote slated for 2015. She's calling on the NDP executive to make changes required to the party's constitution for a leadership motion at the next convention planned for October 2014.
Michael said she hopes for the support of "a good majority" of the party but will abide by any minimum threshold that is set. In other provinces, less than 70 or 80 per cent of support in leadership reviews has been considered a show of non-confidence and has led to resignations.
The Newfoundland and Labrador NDP won five seats in the 2011 election, three more than its previous best result, and had hoped to build on gains in the polls to challenge the Opposition Liberals and ruling Progressive Conservatives.
Michael was elected to the party's top job in May 2006 and was first elected to the provincial legislature later that year in a byelection in the St. John's district of Signal Hill-Quidi Vidi. She led her party to a second-place finish in the popular vote in 2011, but fell short of winning enough seats to form the Official Opposition.
The Progressive Conservatives hold 35 of 48 seats, while the Opposition Liberals have seven seats. There is one vacancy.
Michael said Saturday there's no point in rehashing how a leadership discussion that could have been held privately and in person became a full-blown PR nightmare. Nor could she say just how badly the affair has damaged the credibility of a party that likes to cast itself as a kinder, gentler political alternative.
"All I know is we have to start from where we are and we have to build."
Kelly Blidook, a political scientist at Memorial University of Newfoundland, said a leadership review later in 2014 leaves little time to regroup if Michael's support falls short.
He also doubts that what appears to be a "review by coup" will heal how the caucus has hurt itself "with their strategy surrounding the letter, the things they said about it afterward and the personal attacks especially."