Nfld. & Labrador

Corner Brook NDP candidate steps down, citing leadership concerns, PET scanner

In a scathing video, Graham Downey-Sutton says he withdrew his nomination because of his lack of faith in party leader Alison Coffin and what he says is her lack of support for a hot-button issue in the district: a PET scanner for the new hospital.

'I'm disappointed that it had to come to this,' Graham Downey-Sutton says in Facebook video

This is one of the rallies held in Corner Brook earlier this month, pushing for the PET scanner. (Graham Downey-Sutton/Facebook)

In a scathing video, the former NDP candidate for Corner Brook says he withdrew his nomination because of his lack of faith in party leader Alison Coffin and what he says is her lack of support for a hot-button issue in the district: a PET scanner for the new hospital.

In his video, posted on Facebook Tuesday evening, Graham Downey-Sutton — who announced Friday at 5 p.m. that he was taking his name out of the running — cited an ongoing personal family crisis that he needs to deal with but also points the finger at Coffin and campaign director Mat Whynott.

"Personally, in dealing with Mr. Whynott, I believe he is out of touch with Newfoundlanders and Labradorians. Also, I believe Alison Coffin lacks the leadership skills to be the leader of the New Democratic party," he said.

I've lost my support in Alison Coffin and as a result could not run here in Corner Brook.- Graham Downey-Sutton

Downey-Sutton, who was the NDP candidate in October's Humber-Gros Morne byelection won by Liberal Leader Andrew Furey, said he believes the NDP was better led by previous leaders, like Lorraine Michael and Jack Harris.

"I believe that Alison Coffin does not live up to those same standards and as a result I can't support her and, as a consequence, cannot be the New Democrat candidate," Downey-Sutton said.

"Her lack of an answer or coming out on the hospital and PET scanner was a deal breaker for me and I wasn't gonna put my name on the line for her when she couldn't put her name on the line for the people of Corner Brook and surrounding areas."

NDP Leader Alison Coffin says there's no trouble in the New Democratic Party and she was surprised to hear Downey-Sutton's concerns. (Heather Gillis/CBC)

Party leader 'quite surprised'

Coffin told CBC News on Wednesday that Downey-Sutton did not speak to her but told the party he had a family issue he had to deal with, and they respected that. She said he did not voice any other concerns to the party.

As a result, Coffin said, she was "quite surprised" by the former candidate's comments.

"I think you're hearing from one unhappy individual," she said.

"Certainly, we are supporting all our candidates. We do have a lovely slate of candidates and we do have a great deal of support for all of those candidates."

NDP candidate in Corner Brook quits campaign

1 year ago
Duration 2:11
Jeremy Eaton reports on why candidate Graham Downey-Sutton is now refusing to wear the NDP banner in the Feb. 13 election

Despite Downey-Sutton's criticisms, Coffin said there's no trouble in the party and he is free to raise any issues he may have at the next NDP convention.

"I am getting great support from my caucus, from my staff, from my campaign team and I'm being very well received in the public 

"If he has concerns, of course, there is always a leadership review when we have our large conventions every two years, and that is a natural part of our party."

Underwhelmed by response

In the days leading up to the election call on Jan. 15, Downey-Sutton had been organizing rallies and started an online petition in Corner Brook demanding the Liberals keep their promise to bring a PET scanner to the new hospital being constructed in the city.

The PET scanner was a promise back in 2014 by then Opposition leader Dwight Ball. A PET — positron emission tomography — scanner checks for diseases in the body, making diagnosis and treatment of many conditions easier, especially for cancer patients. St. John's is the only location in the province that has the equipment; the total cost of construction of the St. John's facility came to just over $46 million.

Last week, prior to the election call, John Haggie and Gerry Byrne announced $2 million being put into a trust for the purchase of the equipment for the Corner Brook hospital.

This is the province's PET scanner, at the Health Sciences Centre in St. John's. (Mark Quinn?CBC)

The week before that, Haggie said the province didn't need two of the highly advanced machines, saying the Canadian Association of Radiologists recommend one PET scanner for every two million Canadians, and the one in St. John's is doing a number of scans "well below its capacity."

Downey-Sutton said if there is no PET scanner coming to Corner Brook, it would be "a broken Liberal promise." When he pushed for an NDP response, Downey-Sutton said, he was underwhelmed.

"It was very slow, and the first response was just a social media response that was put out by Mat Whynott, campaign director, through Alison Coffin's page that basically said that Alison was born in Corner Brook hospital, her mother worked there and that she unequivocally supports the hospital and the PET scanner," Downey-Sutton said in the Facebook video.

"However, I continued to be bombarded with messages and I was … directed by the party to cite, with a screenshot more or less, of Alison's quote.… All the while she hadn't actually came out and said, 'I support the hospital and I believe it should be there and I believe it's something Corner Brook needs.'"

In addition to his dissatisfaction with Coffin, Downey-Sutton said Whynott, who is from Nova Scotia, "doesn't understand Newfoundland issues," but in his role seems to have "all the say" over the elected executive of the party.

"I believe this is undemocratic. I believe that under Mat Whynott's direction and under Alison Coffin's leadership, that they are taking the NDP party in the wrong direction," Downey-Sutton said.

"I've lost my support in Alison Coffin and as a result could not run here in Corner Brook. It's unfortunate, but I had to live up to my own standards. The people of Corner Brook deserve better."

Downey-Sutton also took issue with how he said he was directed to campaign by Whynott, including finding an "old lady" who has having difficulty finding a family doctor and getting prescriptions on time in the district to illustrate the issue.

"I'm disappointed that it had to come to this," Downey-Sutton said, adding that he wants the NDP to hold a leadership review as soon as possible.

Downey-Sutton did not respond to multiple requests for comment from CBC News on Wednesday.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

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