Lorraine Michael announced Tuesday morning that she will resign as leader of Newfoundland and Labrador's New Democratic Party.
"A good leader knows when it is time to go," Michael said during a news conference at Confederation Building.
Michael will step aside once a new leader is chosen.
Michael said she reached her decision over the Christmas break, saying it became clear to her that the issues of social justice being pushed by the party were being overshadowed by questions about the party's leadership and whether the party is still relevant.
The party had a poor showing in four byelections held since Michael's leadership was reaffirmed at the NDP convention in May 2014, and opinion polls saw Michael's popularity plummet to single digits.
"It has become clear to me throughout the four byelections [that] the message of the party ... is becoming secondary to public perception of the party," she said.
"The story in the public eye continues to be not what we stand for, but how far we've fallen and whether we're relevant."
Proud of party successes
Michael said the party must continue to champion issues such as poverty, a lack of affordable housing, environmentally responsible development, adequate health care and child care — and other issues that she says contribute to the growing inequality in this province.
"These are the issues that should be under debate and discussion in the public. Not the status of the party," she said.
"If there is any chance that the politics that swirled around my leadership are standing in the way of the party rebuilding and doing its good and necessary work, then I cannot in all conscience remain as leader."
Michael highlighted a long list of legislative changes made over the years that she believes were undertaken because of pressure from her party, including the removal of the provincial sales tax from home-heating fuels, the announcement of full-day kindergarten in the last budget, and long-awaited whistleblower legislation.
"So much of what we demanded for the people of the province has become reality," she said.
"We've been effective as a caucus and a party, and it has been gratifying to see government act on our ideas."
Will stay on as MHA
Michael, a former Roman Catholic nun who has been active in social justice issues for several decades, has been leader of the provincial NDP since May 2006. She has also served as the MHA for Signal Hill-Quidi Vidi since November 2006.
Michael will stay on as MHA, she told reporters and supporters.
"We've been effective as a caucus and as a party," Michael said. "It has been gratifying to see government act on our ideas."
Michael's leadership came under fire in 2013, after two NDP MHAs left the caucus and sat as Independents.
Dale Kirby, who represents St. John's North, and Christopher Mitchelmore, who represents The Straits-White Bay North, questioned Michael's ability to lead and called for a leadership convention.
Michael opted for a leadership review instead.
Last year, members of the party voted to keep Michael as leader.
Leadership choice expected in March
The loss of two MHAs came just two years after the NDP took five seats in the 2011 election — the most the party has ever held.
Michael said she does not regret holding on to the leadership through resignations and the leadership review.
Party president Kathleen Connors said efforts to select a new leader have begun, and she hopes the process can be concluded by the end of March.
The two other NDP MHAs, Gerry Rogers (St. John's Centre) and George Murphy (St. John's East), would not say Tuesday whether they will seek the leadership.
Murphy said he will wait for the dust to settle, while Rogers was more definitive, saying a shot at the leadership is not likely in her future.
As an active and passionate advocate for social justice issues for many years, she has led the New Democratic Party to new heights in NL.— Premier of NL (@PremierOfNL) January 6, 2015
Meanwhile, Premier Paul Davis took to Twitter Tuesday afternoon to wish Michael "success in her future endeavours."
"Ms. Michael has served [as] an exemplary and formidable leader of the third party since 2006," Davis tweeted.
"As an active and passionate advocate for social justice issues for many years, she has led the New Democratic Party to new heights in N.L."