Nfld. & Labrador

New NDP Leader Alison Coffin says party will be ready if spring election called

Coffin has only a few months to turn around the party's fortunes.

New leader has only a few months to turn around the party's fortunes

Alison Coffin is the new leader of the NDP in Newfoundland and Labrador. (Peter Cowan/CBC)

Alison Coffin, the new leader of Newfoundland and Labrador's New Democratic Party, says the party will be ready if a spring election is called.

The party announced Coffin was the new leader Tuesday morning in St. John's, after the economist was the only one to put her name forward to replace outgoing leader Gerry Rogers.

Coffin wasted no time in turning her attention to the other political parties, taking shots at the Muskrat Falls megaproject and the deal that the Liberal government signed with Canopy Growth for marijuana distribution. 

"Both the Liberals and Conservatives have been complicit in what is nothing short of negligence," Coffin said, referring to Muskrat Falls.

She vowed that if there is a provincial election this spring, the NDP will be ready.

Taking over close to election

Coffin ran for the leadership in 2018 but lost to Rogers, who stepped down in February, saying she couldn't commit to another four years as an MHA.

Coffin says she understands Rogers's decision and doesn't blame her, but says she'd be in a better position if she had taken over the party last year instead of right before a provincial election.

"I certainly would have contributed to the development of the platform a little bit more and I would have a little bit more knowledge about what our potential candidates are. But I think that Gerry has done a stellar job of getting our election planning committee ready," she said.

On Tuesday, Coffin said Rogers and MHA Lorraine Michael — another former leader — are "two of the finest MHAs the province has ever seen."

NDP behind on election preparedness

Coffin insists the party will be ready if there's a spring election, but the NDP is already behind the Liberals and Progressive Conservatives in some key areas.

The other two parties have already confirmed several candidates, but the NDP has not.

In one district where the NDP is traditionally strongest, Michael is being challenged for the St. John's East-Quidi Vidi nomination by St.John's Deputy Mayor Sheilagh O'Leary.

Coffin will also have to raise money to fight an election. Party president Lynn Moore said while the party isn't in debt, it doesn't have a war chest for an election that could be just a few months away.

Compare that with the governing Liberals, who have been quietly tucking away hundreds of thousands of dollars by holding glitzy leader dinners, charging $500 a plate.

The NDP is also a distant third on the polls. Last month MQO polling showed the party had just 12 per cent of decided voters, 30 points behind the PCs, and down four points from four months earlier.

"I know that our province needs a shakeup in government, and I think I can provide that change," Coffin said when she launched her leadership bid. 

Lawyer Mark Gruchy had been mulling running for leadership, but in the end, Coffin was the only one who stepped forward as a candidate.

Coffin plans to travel

Coffin won't have a seat in the House of Assembly, won't be able to ask questions of the other leaders. It's the same situation former leader Earle McCurdy found himself in after not winning a seat in the 2015 election. He cited his lack of a seat as one of the reasons for stepping down in 2017.

Since she won't be in the House, she plans to use her time to travel the province, working to build up district associations. It's a promise that former leaders like Michael and McCurdy made, but the party has never made much progress building its base of volunteers and organizers outside the St. John's area.

Coffin also has to wind down her current jobs. She said work is underway to hand over her duties with the Memorial University Faculty Association.

She's also teaching a university course that she'll need to finish before she can focus on her leader duties full-time.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from Peter Cowan and Katie Breen

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