A move by Newfoundland and Labrador's New Democratic Party caucus for a leadership convention next year has sharply divided members of the party and its supporters.

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Lorraine Michael says she felt betrayed by a caucus letter that called for a leadership convention next year.

The party's executive held an emergency teleconference on Monday night, hours after CBC News reported that all four of leader Lorraine Michael's colleagues in caucus signed a letter informing her they wanted a leadership convention next year that would lead to "party renewal and growth."

The caucus said such a move would "attract quality candidates" for the next provincial election scheduled for October 2015.

While party president Kathleen Connors said the move has shocked and appalled many party members, MHA Dale Kirby said the request was a difficult decision, but necessary if the party is to gain momentum among the three main parties. 

Connors said executive members were astonished by the letter, signed by Kirby, Christopher Mitchelmore, George Murphy and Gerry Rogers. 

"Representatives across the province expressed their disbelief, their surprise [over] what's going on here, and disappointment that concerns didn't come to the leader directly," Connors said after the emergency meeting. 

She said the executive remains solidly behind Michael. 

"They are proud of her leadership and the skills that she brings to the job. They look forward to working with her as leader, with the caucus, and with the members as we build toward 2015." 

MHA regrets approach

Gerry Rogers, the NDP MHA for St. John's Centre, said the way the caucus decided to approach Michael about the leadership issue was, in hindsight, not ideal.

"I absolutely regret the way that we did this. It was never intended to be public," Rogers said.

"I believe strongly that our intent was to start this process of evaluation, of pausing again, looking at what we're doing, where we need to go, and perhaps — not perhaps, I know for sure that our approach was not the best approach."

According to Rogers, the intent was for the party to take stock of their current standing in the province and talk amongst themselves about whether or not there was need for change.

"We've misstepped on this one. I don't think we've handled this one well. But it was never supposed to be a public display. It was to be an internal process," she said.

"I think we take our nods and we pull together, we do the dialogue and the work, the really hard work that we wanted to do in the first place in terms of assessing and reviewing."

Rogers said she has since had a discussion with Michael and apologized. But she said she still believes it is necessary to take a look at the leadership and see if there is something more the party could be doing.

"The process would be that if there was a leadership review, that Lorraine Michael would have to step down to participate in that."

"This is the reality of where we are right now today with what has happened and we just have to deal with it, not in a way in terms of spin or optics. We have to deal with this in a real way, we have to deal with the reality of where we are, what has happened, and the fallout of this."

Michael told CBC News she felt betrayed by the email she received hours after returning from vacation. [Read the full text of the letter below.] 

 

Michael, who turned 70 in March, has been party leader since 2006. A former Roman Catholic nun and educator, Michael was well known for many years as a community activist before she entered politics. 

In an interview with CBC News, Kirby defended the letter he and his colleagues sent to Michael. He said constituents and others in the party have been telling him that Michael should step aside. 

"People have certainly been telling us that they'd like to see renewal in the party and change in the leadership," he said. 

Kirby said the caucus did not want, or expect their letter to Michael to turn into a political firestorm. 

"We wanted to do this privately and confidentially," he said. "We never really intended for this to be the subject of the evening news." 

Meanwhile, Kirby said he did not sign the letter to further his own career, and ruled out a leadership bid of his own.

"I'd categorically rule it out. It's not a role I see myself in," he said.