In June, the P.E.I. New Democratic Party’s membership voted unanimously on a motion to support James Rodd as their leader. Rodd wanted the approval of his party to continue in the role after having come under public scrutiny over personal financial difficulties.
Rodd was acclaimed as leader of the P.E.I. New Democratic Party in April 2009. He had held the position of interim leader for a year and a half following the resignation of Dean Constable mere months after the May 2007 election.
Rodd — who ran unsuccessfully as a candidate in the districts of Borden-Kinkora in 2003 and York-Oyster Bed in 2007 —declared personal bankruptcy after unsuccessful efforts to keep his family farm afloat. In February, the P.E.I. government wrote off $170,000 Rodd owed on a loan dating back to the early 1990s.
Born: January 29, 1954.
Education: Graduated from the Nova Scotia Agricultural College, with a diploma in plant science.
Family: Partner: Rita Jackson; one daughter, Sarah, high school student.
Occupation: Organic farmer.
It all stemmed from an episode in the early 1990s, when his fourth-generation family farm in North Milton was caught up in a PVYn virus scare that shut down markets for many Island potato growers. Although the farm was quarantined and the virus was never found, his business was tied up and the provincial lending agency, Enterprise PEI, foreclosed because he owed more than $300,000. Concerned neighbours raised $40,000 for Rodd and he paid back some of the loan in a negotiated settlement in 1994 until this year when it was written off.
Rodd, who is still farming on a smaller scale at his organic farm in North Milton, doesn't think his financial situation is a negative mark on his leadership. He said other Island politicians have declared bankruptcy, as have many other Islanders. In fact, he said it has made him better able to relate to farm families and small business owners.
"I believe that my bankruptcy is really a tip of the iceberg," he told CBC News in February.
"There are other farm families on Prince Edward Island that I know of today that are just hanging on by a string. "We can't continue to lose farmers. We need more farmers, we don't need less farmers."
It was actually his background in agriculture that led Rodd into politics in the first place. Rodd joined the National Farmers Union of Canada in 1989 to take a stand against provincial and federal policies that he said, "to this day, don't address the needs of farmers and farm families."
This exposure led Rodd to join the P.E.I. NDP in the late 1990s, where he became a member of the executive, and eventually president. He stepped away from the party's executive for awhile, but was back as president in 2004. When the NDP lost its leader Gary Robichaud after cancer forced him to resign in 2005, Dean Constable rose to the position and directed the party through the 2007 election. After Constable resigned for personal reasons, Rodd took over the helm in and was acclaimed leader in 2009.
Rodd said one of the NDP's highlighted issues in the upcoming election is the importance P.E.I.'s primary resource industries — farming, fishing and forestry. He said the party wants to make it easier for people, both young and old, to become and stay involved in these industries.
"It's time to recognize they are integral to the well-being of all Islanders," he said.
"Robert Ghiz and the Liberals have not served Islanders well in the last four years," Rodd said. "Rural P.E.I. is decimated. We have very few services, we have people outmigrating. There's not meaningful work or a liveable wage. To have a strong rural economy, you also have a strong urban economy."
Health care is another area that will be strongly addressed by the NDP.
"Health care is on the hearts and minds of Islanders. It continues to be an issue. The well being of our health care system as well as the wellbeing of Islanders is one our top priorities," he said.
"But most importantly, the community, I believe, needs politicians that listen — less talking. Communities need to be heard," he said.
"They know what their needs are and it's simple on some levels. Government can provide infrastructure and support appropriate development. You cannot build a community from the fifth floor of the Shaw Building."
Rodd noted, in particular, that he would like to see more recruiting and outreach for youth with drug addictions and other troubles and their families.
Rodd will once again run in his home riding of York-Oyster Bed. He said the NDP hopes to run a full slate of candidates.
"You don’t do this if you’re not enjoying it," said Rodd. "There is a lot of fun in politics. There are serious times and there's a need to be serious, absolutely. But there are other times when you just have to chuckle to yourself about how people say things or how they respond to something. It's human nature."
Rodd believes he's suited to lead the NDP to success.
"I enjoy working with people," said Rodd. "I feel I'm a person who works well in a team and I wanted to continue the effort in making a contribution. I felt I could make a difference leading the NDP party."