NDP sets sights on next election with Michael as leader

Provincial New Democrats hope the strong endorsement for their leader Saturday will be enough to turn the page on a tumultuous seven months for the party.

Party united in message to learn from mistakes, improve communications

NDP Leader Lorraine Michael says the party is now focused on getting ready for the next provincial election.

Provincial New Democrats hope the strong endorsement for their leader on Saturday will be enough to turn the page on a tumultuous seven months for the party.

Seventy-five per cent of delegates voted in favour of Lorraine Michael leading the party into the next general election. That's despite a nasty and very public fallout with some MHAs and party members in October 2013.

An emboldened and apologetic Michael said she and the party have been able to emerge from the implosion in good shape, largely due to short memories and common goals.

"The thing is, what happened happened. And I'm sorry that any of it happened, but it did,"Michael told reporters after results of the leadership vote were announced. "We dealt with things as we could deal with them at the time, and now we have to move forward."

No dodging the issue

That said, Michael noted there was no attempt to avoid addressing what the party's been through of late, and how they've plummeted in the polls.

"I think the party, the people at the convention ... we had a good discussion. Nobody ran away from October 2013. It was on the floor. But I think the people do want to put that behind us now. And I really got that strong sense from everybody in the room," she said.

Michael also said everyone involved must shoulder some of the blame.

"It would be wrong for anyone to think none of us made any mistakes during that process. But not mistakes that were wilful. And mistakes that were made in the context of information we had at the time, as things that were happening at the time. I think that's good for us to acknowledge, but now we move forward and we learn from those mistakes, and hope that those kinds of mistakes don't happen again."
NDP Leader Lorraine Michael is flanked by MHAs George Murphy and Gerry Rogers after Michael's leadership was endorsed by party delegates Saturday afternoon in St. John's. (CBC)

Michael and the NDP were on a roll and topping polls last fall when it was revealed party MHAs had signed a letter questioning Michael's leadership.

The letter was drafted and emailed to Michael while she was away on vacation, leading to criticism of its content and how the message was delivered.

MHAs George Murphy and Gerry Rogers would later apologize and say they regretted how the process unfolded in public.

However, MHAs Dale Kirby and Christopher Mitchelmore stood by it — and the apparent call for new leadership. They would eventually leave the party in February to join the Liberals.

Party president Kathleen Connors believes the reaffirmed support for Michael won't be lost on voters.

NDP president Kathleen Connors speaks with reporters on Saturday. (CBC)
"They see that Lorraine Michael has the qualities of a leader and a spokesperson for our party ... and for the people of the province, [to do] the things that the people of this province believe in and want for themselves and their families," Connors said.

On Saturday, there was clear relief from Michael with the 75 per cent vote, calling it "a very healthy percentage."

She said the focus is now on election readiness, and a big campaign to increase the minimum wage.

"We've certainly got a lot of work to do. We know that people are concerned about the minimum wage, and the fact that it's so low and that there isn't a change. We'll be using that as a way to show people that we really do care about them."

She said improving communications — with the public and within the party — will be a priority, along with ensuring the NDP has strong candidates in all 48 districts for the next election.

"We had 48 in 2011 and I'm pretty sure we'll get 48 again. That's my goal."

The party's convention wrapped up Sunday with the election of the executive committee, and Connors remaining president.

The executive will hold their first formal meeting on Wednesday.