Parties & Leaders

Lorraine Michael

MHA Signal Hill - Quidi Vidi   External link opens in a new windowThe New Democratic Pary of N.L.
CBC Online News | Updated Sep 4, 2007
NDP Leader Lorraine Michael

Lorraine Michael is the rookie among Newfoundland and Labrador's political leaders, but she is no shrinking violet in the legislature, nor is she is new to squaring off over important issues.

Michael, a former Roman Catholic nun, moved into politics full time in 2006, replacing Jack Harris as New Democratic Party leader in May 2006, and then taking his old seat in Signal Hill-Quidi Vidi district that November.

Harris had led the party for 14 years, through four different election campaigns, all the while managing to keep the third party afloat as political sands shifted between the Liberals and the Progressive Conservatives.

Apart from taking over Harris's seat and status as party leader, Michael faces the challenge of persuading voters to keep the NDP in mind.

"Our message to the voters once the time comes for an election will be, 'Look at how important it was to have these seats in the house, the NDP seats,'" Michael said recently.

Michael is currently a caucus of one. Randy Collins, the other member of the party's caucus, resigned his seat this winter to take a job in Ontario, albeit under the cloud of the legislative spending scandal that has rocked political circles for more than a year. Collins was one of five politicians named in Auditor General John Noseworthy's 2006 reports.

Although isolated in the legislature, Michael has asked pointed questions to cabinet ministers and brought emotional clarity to some debates. "I just have to say that answer has given me a cold shiver," a visibly shaken Michael said in May, during a debate about flawed breast cancer tests at a St. John's laboratory.

Even before her victory in the Signal Hill byelection, Michael earned some praise - by way of a backhanded slap against the Liberals - from Premier Danny Williams, who applauded how she ran her campaign against star Tory candidate Jerome Kennedy.

"The NDP have proven, in fact, that they are the real opposition now," Williams said after the votes were counted.

Michael has been active in political circles for many years, although often outside the confines of Confederation Building.

In the 1980s, she ran a social action program with the Roman Catholic Archdiocese in St. John's, and became known as the small nun with big ideas about social change. She founded the Coalition for Equality, an umbrella group that spoke out on numerous issues - including poverty, housing and sexism - and became something of a thorn in the side of then Premier Brian Peckford.

By 1993, Michael had resigned as a nun, disillusioned with how church leaders had dealt with numerous complaints of sexual abuse. Michael worked with feminist organizations and before jumping to politics ran the Women in Resource Development Committee, which fights for employment equity in natural resources industries.

After Collins resigned - and the Tories picked up his seat of Labrador West in the byelection - Michael was able to stave off a loss of status and legislative funding, at least for now. She remained able to ask questions in the house of assembly.

Apart from holding on to her own seat - which includes a section of downtown St. John's that has been warm to the NDP for most of the last two decades - Michael will want to add at least another seat to her caucus, to ensure the NDP's voice is clearly heard.

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Quick Facts

Born: March 27, 1943

Education: B.A., B.Ed. from Memorial University, Master's of Divinity from University of Toronto.

Before politics: As a Roman Catholic nun, founded the Coalition for Equality and ran a social action program within the church. A former teacher, Michael is the former executive director of the Women in Resource Development Committee.

Interests: Michael sings with the Philharmonic Choir of the Newfoundland Symphony Orchestra.

Political career: MHA for Signal Hill-Quidi Vidi since November 2006.


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