Nfld. & Labrador

Sheilagh O'Leary challenging Lorraine Michael for NDP nomination

The deputy mayor of St. John’s is looking to make the leap to provincial politics, and has her eye on a former NDP leader's seat.

Deputy mayor challenging longtime NDP incumbent for party's nomination

Longtime NDP incumbent Lorraine Michael (right) will have to fight for her party's nomination in the upcoming election. Sheilagh O'Leary wants to represent the district in the legislature. (CBC )

The deputy mayor of St. John's is looking to make the leap to provincial politics, and she plans on challenging longtime NDP MHA Lorraine Michael for the party's nomination in St. John's East—Quidi Vidi. 

Sheilagh O'Leary announced Monday that she will run against Michael, who has held the  seat in the House of Assembly since 2006.

"Just the status quo is not good enough," said O'Leary in an interview with the St. John's Morning Show.

"I certainly have nothing but the highest regard for Lorraine Michael and certainly the work that she's done for the party, but I think it's time for change."

The party faces an uncertain future following leader and St. John's Centre MHA Gerry Rogers's decision to step down after a new leader is chosen.

Thus far, only Alison Coffin has announced her intentions to run for leadership. 

The party is expected to make an announcement on the leadership on Tuesday morning. 

Michael has long been a well-known figure within the NDP and had previously announced her intention to run again in the next Newfoundland and Labrador election.

Lorraine Michael has been the MHA for St. John's East - Quidi Vidi since 2006. (Ted Dillon/CBC)

But she is welcoming the fight from O'Leary, and says her track record speaks for itself.

"Ms. O'Leary can make her decisions and you know, she's doing that," said Michael.

"I'm moving forward. I have tremendous support in the district, I know that. I have been working in this district for 16 years."

She said supporters are telling her she needs to run again and maintain the NDP's grip on the district.

"I've had many people coming to me and asking me not to step down to make sure that I run again," said Michael.

'It's where I live': O'Leary

O'Leary's decision to seek the nomination in St. John's East—Quidi Vidi instead of a less contested NDP district, like the one in St. John's Centre that Rogers is vacating, may be a surprise, but she said it's the place she's always called home.

"It's been the core and the rock of the NDP in Newfoundland and Labrador and as a growing party it kind of all stems from this particular area, this district," she said.

"The people that I'm serving live in this district right now, so it's very close to my heart. It's where I live and that's the reason why I'm seeking it."

Sheilagh O'Leary will step back from her role as deputy mayor if she wins the nomination. (Mark Quinn.CBC)

One of the reasons O'Leary said she's looking to move away from municipal politics is the limited amount of changes that can be made at that level.

She says many of the issues she's been working on, including environmental concerns about cosmetic pesticides and plastic bags, are better tackled at the provincial level.

"I have a lot of frustration because working at the city, they are provincial issues and the limited amount of control the City of St. John's has under the City of St. John's Act limits the ability to do many different progressive things."

'I know where I stand': Michael

For her part, Michael says that her 13 years in the house make her the ideal candidate for party's nomination in the riding. 

"I know where I stand," she said. 

Gerry Rogers announced on Feb. 12 that she won't be seeking re-election, and will also be leaving her role as leader of the provincial NDP. (CBC)

Michael said she's always been a strong voice for her constituents in the House of Assembly.

"We've been the ones who have brought forward issues that challenge both the Liberals and the Conservatives and where they've brought us in this province to date," she said.

"And I continually have people saying we need your voice in the house, and they need our voice in the house as well."

But O'Leary maintains that the NDP needs a change, and that she's an ideal person to spearhead it.

"I'm in the prime of my career, it's time to hold government accountable," she said.

"We need to attract and mentor newcomers to the NDP. We know that we're stalled, and it's time for change and I'm very excited to offer myself up for that."

Date for election to be announced soon

It remains unclear when the next provincial election will be. It could be as soon as this spring or as late as the fall.

Premier Dwight Ball has said he will set the date for the election in early April. 

If O'Leary wins the nomination, she will have to step aside from her city duties as soon as the writ is called.

She will be able to resume her role as deputy mayor if she's not successful in her campaign.

O'Leary ran unsuccessfully for the NDP in 2014 in Virginia Waters.

Read more articles from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from the St. John's Morning Show

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