Cardy's parting words rile foes within NDP

Some members of New Brunswick’s NDP say departing leader Dominic Cardy’s attacks on his critics within the party are misplaced and unfair.
Dominic Cardy announced his resignation from the leadership of the NDP on Sunday with complaints that didn't sit well with some members. (CBC)

Some members of New Brunswick's NDP say departing leader Dominic Cardy's attacks on his critics within the party are misplaced and unfair.

Cardy announced Jan. 1 that he was resigning as leader of the New Democratic Party, accusing "a tiny minority of well-connected members" of continually trying to remove him as leader because they disagreed with his moderate approach.

He's been mostly burning bridges and alienating a lot of people in the party.- Merrill Fullerton, Memramcook-Tantramar NDP

"It's been consistent over the entire time I've been leader," Cardy told CBC's Information Morning Fredericton.

"And it's just reached the point where I don't believe I can both prepare for an election and continue to make sure the NDP is a sensible vehicle for change in the province."

But Merrill Fullerton, a member of the Memramcook-Tantramar riding executive, said Cardy's actions in the job are to blame for the turmoil.

"His style of leadership has not been constructive in terms of building bridges," Fullerton said. "He's been mostly burning bridges and alienating a lot of people in the party."

Riding wanted him out

Fullerton's riding association passed a motion last fall calling for Cardy's removal.

Under NDP rules, a leadership review vote takes place at every party convention. A convention was expected in 2017 and Fullerton said he expected Cardy to lose. 

"He has taken a different route than to go out gracefully," Fullerton said.

Cardy disputed that Tuesday, saying he'd seen many threats to remove him as leader during his time in the job, and each time his critics failed to assemble enough votes to remove him.

Ouster motion failed

He said there was "yet another ill-prepared motion of no confidence in me" that was voted down at a September meeting of the NDP's provincial council, which includes the party executive and representatives from all active riding associations.

Fullerton said later in the fall, though, many new and former members were signing up so they could vote against Cardy at this year's convention.

Patrick Colford, president of the New Brunswick Federation of Labour and an NDP supporter, agreed that "two camps were doing their best to mobilize people … and one camp might have had a bit more momentum," he said. "You can read between the lines."

I've got no time for this idea that a huge central government, ever-expanding, is what it means to be progressive.- Dominic Cardy , recently departed NDP leader

​Colford said many union members were disappointed when Cardy and his allies changed party rules to remove seats on the party executive set aside for organized labour.

"There was of course some backlash," he said. "The people I surround myself with were a little taken aback. … Labour's always been a big part of the party and to see that happen at the time kind of left a bad taste in people's mouths."

Cardy also spoke out often in favour of government spending restraint, which unions saw as an attack on their job security and pensions.

Danny Légère, the president of the Canadian Union of Public Employees in New Brunswick, said Cardy "seemed to want to take the party more to the right, which didn't always line up with our vision of the party."

But Cardy said spending money wisely shouldn't be seen as right-wing or left-wing. It's a way to deliver the services people need more efficiently.

"I've got no time for this idea that a huge central government, ever-expanding, is what it means to be progressive."

Energy stance inconsistent 

Fullerton said many of Cardy's other positions also alienated traditional NDP supporters. His criticism of shale gas protests and his support for the Energy East pipeline went against the party's usual stance on environmental issues, Fullerton said.

Meanwhile, Cardy's criticism of duality in school busing hurt the party's support among francophones, he said.

Another controversial move among some New Democrats was Cardy's recruitment of former Liberals and Progressive Conservatives to run as candidates in 2014.

Took different approach 

Mount Allison University political scientist Geoff Martin, who ran for the NDP in the 2003 provincial election, said Cardy acted as if party tradition and principle didn't matter or were interchangeable with other parties.

New Democrats might have accepted that if it had yielded seats in the legislature, he said.

Dominic Cardy announced his resignation over the weekend. And he blamed it on what he described as "destructive forces" within the NDP. 2:36
"It's when the strategy works so poorly or doesn't deliver the promised results."

Légère said that's why he was planning to support the leadership review vote. Cardy "hasn't been able to have an NDP member elected to the provincial legislative assembly."

Not much electoral success

Cardy was shut out in the 2014 provincial election. Cardy was also defeated in a 2012 byelection in Rothesay and in a 2014 byelection in Saint John East.

The NDP has had no one in the legislature since 2005, when former leader Elizabeth Weir resigned after 14 years in the house.

Fullerton and Colford said Cardy's resignation isn't a crisis for the NDP but an opportunity.

Chance for renewal

"Most of us now feel emboldened and relieved," Fullerton said. Members "see this as an opening to renew the party, to start fresh, to bring all of those we abandoned over the years back into the party."

Colford said Cardy "did the best he possibly could do, but at the end of the day some of his views and opinions didn't line up with the grassroots NDP members.

"We had quite a few members leave, turn their backs. Maybe with his resignation we may see some of those folks come back on side. … The party is the New Democratic Party, it's not the Dominic Cardy party."

About the Author

Jacques Poitras

Provincial Affairs reporter

Jacques Poitras has been CBC's provincial affairs reporter in New Brunswick since 2000. Raised in Moncton, he also produces the CBC political podcast Spin Reduxit.

with files from Information Morning