New Brunswick

Jennifer McKenzie steps down as NDP leader after party vote

Jennifer McKenzie, who tried to move the New Brunswick NDP back to its socialist roots, has resigned as party leader, a day after members voted to hold a leadership convention before the end of August.

Resignation comes a day after members vote to hold leadership convention

NDP leader Jennifer McKenzie says she is resigning less than two years after taking on the job. (Hadeel Ibrahim/CBC)

Jennifer McKenzie, who tried to move the New Brunswick NDP back to its socialist roots, has resigned as party leader, a day after members voted to hold a leadership convention before the end of August.

In a statement Monday, McKenzie said she was resigning "effective immediately."

"The NDP has by a vote this week determined that there will be a leadership convention within the next six months," she said. "I have decided not to participate in such a leadership contest."

McKenzie has been leader since August 2017 and led the party to a dismal showing in the provincial election last September, when the NDP won no seats.  

On Sunday at Moncton's Darts Club, 95 delegates took part in the vote on whether to hold a leadership convention.

The vote was close, with 52 in favour and 43 against, said Danny Légère, who holds a labour seat on the NDP provincial council. He said the results of the 2018 election definitely affected the leadership review. 

"At the end of the day, there are some who feel that leadership may be a factor in that," he said.

In a Monday afternoon scrum, Jennifer McKenzie told reporters she's proud of the work she did before resigning as leader of the NDP. (CBC)

In a Monday afternoon scrum, McKenzie admitted she was surprised by the result and said she's "not part of that vision" of where the party wants to go.

Despite the vote Sunday, McKenzie could have remained leader until a convention, when she could have run against other candidates to try to keep the post. But she chose to resign immediately and said she won't run again for the leadership.

In her statement, McKenzie said she was "thankful," for the opportunity to be leader. Despite the disappointing results of the Sept. 24 election, she said she was glad that the party had a full slate of candidates and that more than 50 per cent of them were women.

McKenzie, left, with Green Party Leader David Coon, People's Alliance Leader Kris Austin, Liberal Leader Brian Gallant, Progressive Conservative Leader Blaine Higgs debated in Riverview during the 2018 elections. (Marc Grandmaison/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

McKenzie finished third in Saint John Harbour, the riding represented by the last NDP member of the legislature, Elizabeth Weir, who retired from politics in 2005.

In 2018, the NDP received more than 19,000 votes provincewide, a 60 per cent drop from 2014 and its worst result in a New Brunswick election in 44 years.  

McKenzie campaigned on a return to the NDP's socialist beginnings, promising universal childcare, pay equity, home care, better nursing home ratios and pharmacare.

This was a shift from what former leader Dominic Cardy pushed for. He alienated some people by endorsing the Energy East pipeline and distancing himself from unions. He's now a minister in the Progressive Conservative government.

NDP members met at Moncton's Dart Club Sunday night, and voted to hold a leadership convention within the next six months. (Danny Légère/Submitted)

"I was the new kid on the block, and the party was renewing itself and going back to its socialist roots," McKenzie said "That is something that's quite new and different. We haven't seen that for a long time in this province and it's going to take some time to sell."

In 2018, the NDP received five per cent of the popular vote, down from 11 per cent when Cardy was leader.

The NDP appears to have missed the wave that propelled the two other alternative parties (the Green Party and People's Alliance) to greater success. The Greens had 11 per cent and the Alliance had 12 per cent of the popular vote last election, and each won three ridings.

McKenzie said people may have chosen Green over NDP because there has been confusion about what sets them apart.

"[The Greens] are not a socialist party, they're not a party to the left," she said. "Because we haven't had a lot of socialism and socialist policy in this province, people did not understand the difference."

4 leaders in 14 years

Since Weir resigned in 2005, the NDP has had four leaders, including McKenzie, who ran for the leadership unopposed.

No date has been set for the leadership convention, which has to be held in the next six months.

The vote was by secret ballot, Légère said, but some people did voice their disagreement with the results.

"Some felt that we shouldn't be changing leaders as often as we do. It wasn't good for the party, that we needed consistency. Some felt otherwise."

There are about 600 card-carrying NDP members provincially.

With files from Catherine Harrop

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