Lorraine Michael: Aiming for a breakthrough
- Michael has been provincial NDP leader for five years
- NDP has held Signal Hill-Quidi Vidi since 1990
- Apart from politics, Michael sings in the NSO Philharmonic Choir
Through the duration of the 46th general assembly of Newfoundland and Labrador's legislature, Lorraine Michael has been solitary but never silent.
As both leader and sole member of the New Democratic Party's caucus, she was greatly outflanked by the governing Progressive Conservatives, and even the four-member Liberal caucus to her side seemed dominant.
For the upcoming 47th session, Michael hopes to be joined by considerably more New Democrats. Michael and the NDP are hoping 2011 will go down as the year that the NDP — which has never had more than two seats in the house of assembly at any one time — makes a long-hoped-for breakthrough.
Michael, who has represented Signal Hill-Quidi Vidi since a 2006 byelection, earned a high profile in the province decades ago, as a Roman Catholic nun who was passionate about fighting poverty, promoting women's rights and making sure social equality issues were on the public agenda.
"If I believe in something, look out," Michael said in a 2006, serving notice to political opponents that she would have to be taken seriously.
At 68, Michael is the oldest of the three party leaders, and the only one to have shepherded a team through an election.
Coming off the surge of NDP support in May's federal election — which saw the party pick up both St. John's-area seats — Michael and her team are hoping to roll the "Orange Crush" into the fall, and change the makeup of the house of assembly. A public opinion poll released in June suggested that the NDP were in reach of forming the Opposition.
Known first as 'Sister Lorraine'
For years, even decades, many knew her mainly as "Sister Lorraine," due to her work in social justice issues, much of it conducted through an office of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese in St. John's.
Although she left both the order and the church itself after revelations of sexual abuse in the late 1980s and early 1990s, she has maintained her progressive convictions. She helped found the Oxfam office in St. John's. Before running for the NDP, Michael had been the executive director of Women in Resource Development Committee, which aimed to bring women into the male-dominated workforce in mining, oil and other industries.
Michael had been an educator for many years, teaching and serving as a principal. Even then, she says, her priority was to develop social connections.
"I just had to be out there, and with them," she said. "Then I officially went into community development."
It was an easy transition, and when the official move to politics came in 2006, it seemed inevitable, and part of Michael's destiny.
"The past 30 to 35 years have led me to this moment," Michael told CBC after she took on the leadership.
Michael succeeded Jack Harris as leader in May of that year, and that November succeeded him in the house of assembly. Winning the byelection in Signal Hill-Quidi Vidi was no cakewalk, as then-premier Danny Williams recruited high-profile Jerome Kennedy to represent the PCs. [Kennedy would go to be elected in Carbonear-Harbour Grace in the 2007 general election.]
As party leader, Michael has focused on building the NDP's infrastructure, particularly with helping to strengthen district associations around the province.
While forming the government is unlikely, Michael has never played down the benefits of presenting an alternate view to government.
"Being in opposition is a really positive place to be," she once told the St. John's Telegram. "You can really work for the people in opposition."
To multiply the NDP's presence in the house, Michael will certainly have her work cut out for her.