NDP candidates feeling good heading into the homestretch
Two of the three candidates vying for the leadership of the New Democratic Party of Newfoundland and Labrador say Saturday's convention in St. John's will serve as a much-needed springboard heading into an upcoming provincial general election.
Earle McCurdy and Chris Bruce were busy Friday, making last-minute preparations as dozens of supporters prepared to gather at the Sheraton Hotel to select the party's new leader.
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Roughly 200 people are registered to vote at the convention, while another 1,219 voted online or by telephone before the deadline at the end of the day on Thursday.
Many hope the energy and interest generated by the leadership contest will translate into a reversal of the party's fortunes of late.
"We need to be united coming out of this event," said McCurdy. "It's been an issue-based campaign and I think it positions the party well going forward."
Taking nothing for granted
McCurdy, 65, is the former leader of the Fish, Food and Allied Workers' (FFAW) union, and is considered the frontrunner, having signed up roughly 600 members.
That's about 100 more than Mike Goosney, who was a last-minute entry into the race. Goosney is a steelworker from Labrador City.
McCurdy, however, is not taking anything for granted.
"I'm confident about the outcome, but of course it's up to the party members to make that decision," he said.
McCurdy said he will challenge for a seat in the legislature in the upcoming general election whether he wins the leadership or not.
Bruce, meanwhile, was more realistic about his chances, having recruited just 200 members.
"Not the best," said the 26-year-old coffee shop manager.
"A happy room full of smiling people who are energized for the general election. That's a victory."
Bruce left the NDP during a high-profile and fractious dispute over Lorraine Michael's leadership in 2013.
Michael announced her intentions to step down as leader in early January, and is scheduled to be saluted by the party during a celebration at the Sheraton Friday evening.
She has been party leader since and the MHA for Signal Hill-Quidi Vidi since 2006.
Back in the fold
Bruce said he's once again committed to the party, regardless of what happens on Friday.
And like McCurdy, he will run in the upcoming general election, but has not decided on which district he will seek.
"I'll find something to do to keep myself busy until then," he said.
Goosney, meanwhile, didn't mince words about the challenge the party faces during an interview this week with The Canadian Press.
“It was an implosion,” he said of a particularly nasty and very public leadership rift that split the five-member caucus in October 2013, resulting in the departure of two caucus members.
“It was really disheartening how it all went down," said Goosney, 37, a pipefitter at the Iron Ore Company of Canada mine in Labrador City.
Kelly Blidook, a political scientist at Memorial University of Newfoundland, said he expects McCurdy to win.
“They just don’t have the name recognition,” he said of the other two candidates.
Whoever takes over will be battling in the short months before the next election to keep what support the party still has, he added.
“I think it’s unlikely they’re going to grow significantly."
Planning a full slate of candidates
Party president Kathleen Connors painted a brighter picture.
There are more than 1,600 members eligible to vote for the new leader compared to about 800 members last year, she said in an interview.
“It’s an invigorating and forward looking time to be a New Democrat.”
Connors said the focus is on reorganizing and having a full slate of candidates across the province ready to run this fall.
“What has happened, happened,” she said of the NDP’s bout of self-inflicted damage.
“But we’re moving ahead and putting all of our energy into building rather than stewing about what went on in the past.”
Premier Paul Davis is expected to call an election this fall.