Nfld. & Labrador

NDP leadership hopefuls Gerry Rogers and Alison Coffin face off in debate

On Sunday, the NDP held their first leadership debate between economist Alison Coffin and MHA Gerry Rogers at Memorial University in St. John’s,

Muskrat Falls, unemployment, economy and reconciliation among issues tackled for first debate

Alison Coffin, left, and Gerry Rogers are in the running to be the next leader of the NDP in Newfoundland and Labrador. (Andrew Sampson/CBC)

The provincial NDP's leadership candidates — economist Alison Coffin and MHA Gerry Rogers — went head to head Sunday on issues facing Newfoundlanders and Labradorians today, in the party's first debate.

Among the topics: cost overruns on the Muskrat Falls project, the high level of unemployment in the province, N.L.'s fiscal situation, reconciliation with the Indigenous community, and issues like child care and the gender wage gap.

While both shared a similar point of view on many of the key issues, Coffin stressed her bona fides as an economist and educator, citing her love of analyzing financial data and reports, and the unique perspective that brings.

"Having 25 years as an economist working here in Newfoundland and Labrador, I feel I have a very good sense of the social and economic conditions in the province," she said.

"A lot of the policy decisions made in the past has really not served us well, and I have a good idea of how we need to change the ways we make decisions and the ways we govern this province."

Coffin say she'll bring a unique perspective to the table as party leader. (Andrew Sampson/CBC)

Meanwhile, Rogers emphasized her diverse career as a filmmaker, activist and the two terms she's spent as MHA in St. John's Centre helping her constituents.

"I feel like everything that's happened in my life has prepared me for this. I feel that I'm ready to lead," she said. 

"The work that I have done … has been about working collaboratively and building coalitions. Building coalitions with civil society, with non-profit organizations, with labour, with small business, and that has been really effective." 

Debating future of the party

Both candidates offered suggestions for the party's future, just one year ahead of a provincial election in 2019, and three years after the party earned just two seats in the 2015 provincial election.

During that contest, then-NDP leader Earle McCurdy failed to win a seat in the House of Assembly, losing to Liberal MHA Siobhan Coady.

He stayed on as leader until he stepped down in Sept. 2017, triggering this leadership race.

"I think it's really important for the leader to have a seat, so that the people of the province can see the leader in action, can see the leader speaking out on issues that are relevant to people's lives," said Rogers. 

"I believe that's what I am able to bring to this leadership contest. I have that experience, I've been successful in the house, and I'm willing to continue to do that."

Likewise, Coffin, who also failed to win a seat in the 2015 election, said she understands the importance of having an NDP leader that's in the house. 

Rogers says she has the experience needed for the job. (Andrew Sampson/CBC)
She said her experience in that election is paving the way for her second go-round.

"I think [because] I've already ran once, Earl had never run before he became leader. I understand how that process works," said Coffin.

"We're only a year and a half out of an election at this point, so that's going to give me a year and a half to plan on how I am actually going to get elected in the future." 

Both candidates agreed that there needs to be a strong focus on growing the NDP in Newfoundland if the party is to continue to be successful, with Coffin stating that she believes the NDP can form a government in N.L. for the first time in its history, and Rogers that the party offers a strong alternative to the current political status quo.. 

"I believe that the people of this province are waiting for us. They're watching us and they're saying, 'We're interested in the NDP' because politics as usual is not working for them," said Rogers.

Voting for the NDP leadership opens on Monday for party members. The leader will be be named on April 8 at the NDP's convention in St. John's.

About the Author

Andrew Sampson is a journalist with CBC News in St. John's.