Nfld. & Labrador

Gerry Rogers or Alison Coffin? NDP leadership convention kicks off in St. John's

NDP members are choosing between a well-known MHA and an economist who's never held elected office.

Voting to take place Sunday evening with winner announced sometime around 5 p.m.

MHA Gerry Rogers, left, and economist Alison Coffin are vying for the leadership of the Newfoundland and Labrador NDP. (Paula Gale/CBC)

A well-known MHA and an economist who's never held elected office — those are the options for Newfoundland and Labrador New Democrats as the party chooses its new leader this weekend.

The two-day leadership convention at the St. John's Convention Centre will include guest speakers — including federal NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh — party workshops, performances and finally will wrap up with voting and the announcement of a new leader Sunday evening.

The St. John's Convention Centre will host the NDP leadership convention this weekend. (Jeremy Eaton/CBC )

Gerry Rogers, who has represented the St. John's Centre district since 2011, and economist and educator Alison Coffin are both vying to be the new NDP leader, and have been busy in recent weeks putting together policies and their campaigns.

The two agree on a lot, such as the need for an inquiry into the Muskrat Falls project.

Both candidates say the recent financial turmoil in the province puts the NDP in a good position to pitch their ideas to the people of Newfoundland and Labrador, despite the fact that the party currently only holds two seats in the House of Assembly.

"People are really discouraged with politics as usual, they don't want that anymore," Rogers told the St. John's Morning Show. "It's our job now to show them that we have the chops."

Coffin and Rogers appear on CBC's Here & Now ahead of this weekend's NDP leadership convention. (CBC)

Coffin agrees, and says the party's biggest goal is to present itself as a viable choice for voters across the province.

"People like the New Democratic ideas, but want to know how it will work. That's the NDP challenge," she said. "How are we going to balance our fiscal responsibilities, which are substantial, with our social responsibilities?

Gerry Rogers

Rogers has been busy traveling around the province, listening to party members express their discouragement with the current political situation and the massive challenges faced by both the provincial government and the people it is supposed to represent.

"We have a jobs crisis right now, and we need to look at how we are going to sustain our communities," she said. "What are we going to do to be able to get people back to work?"

Rogers was first elected for the St. John's Centre district in October 2011. (Andrew Sampson/CBC)

Rogers points to her more than seven years of experience as an MHA, and specifically to her history of collaboration with others in the house getting three private members bills with unanimous support.

"People have seen me in action. We've built those relationships of trust across the province," she said.

Alison Coffin

Coffin, an economist who also failed to win a seat in the 2015 provincial election, said she decided to get involved in politics so that she could actually start moving the gears of governmental change rather than criticizing decisions from the periphery.

"I said to myself,  'Allison, you can't stay out on the outside, yelling at it for as long as you've been. You need to get in and actually take some decisive action,'" she said.

"I've seen the bad decisions that have been made and I know what can be done to change the direction of our province."

Coffin ran for the NDP in 2015 and lost but is ready to take a shot at the leadership. (Andrew Sampson/CBC)

Though she doesn't currently hold a seat in the House of Assembly, Coffin said she's open to running in a byelection before the provincial election in a year and a half, if the seat is viable and other strong NDP members come forward.

"If I was to win [the nomination], I am certain that in the next year and a half I would have a seat," she said.

Muskrat Falls inquiry

The NDP have been critics of the troubled Muskrat Falls hydroelectric project from the start, and both leadership candidates say an independent inquiry is needed —  even though it comes with a $33.7-million price tag.

Both NDP leadership candidates support an inquiry into the Muskrat Falls hydroelectric construction project on the Churchill River in central Labrador. (Nalcor)

Rogers says the project has not only cost the province billions of dollars, it also eroded the public's trust in government and the political process.

"If we were government, Muskrat Falls would never have happened," she said. "It absolutely never would have happened."

Coffin agrees the inquiry is needed, and says even though it will cost taxpayers more money, people deserve to know what happened and what can be done to prevent future boondoggles.

"The people of the province are very, very angry," she said. "They want to know why we're enslaved by this huge project that's going to cost us as ratepayers and taxpayers an enormous amount of money."

With files from the St. John's Morning Show