Sheilagh O'Leary 'surprised,' will not seek NDP nomination in St. John's East-Quidi Vidi
New NDP Leader Alison Coffin announced Thursday she would run in the district
News that the new leader of the provincial New Democrats wanted to run in St. John's East-Quidi Vidi was a surprise to Sheilagh O'Leary, who now says she will not seek the NDP nomination in that district.
In fact, O'Leary says she won't be running in the upcoming provincial election at all.
"I was certainly disappointed in how things played out," O'Leary announced on CBC's St. John's Morning Show.
The party has decided to go in another direction and I respect that, even though I don't necessarily agree with that decision.- Sheilagh O'Leary
"I was surprised, yes I was," O'Leary added, of hearing the news Thursday that Alison Coffin would be running in the district, and veteran NDP MHA Lorraine Michael would step down.
O'Leary, who is the deputy mayor of St. John's, announced earlier this month she planned to challenge Michael for the party's nomination in the district.
"My intent to announce certainly was not knee-jerk, it was something that I was thinking about for some time and certainly had had many conversations about," she said, adding she also discussed the matter with Michael.
"I've had several conversations with many people along the way," she said. "I do my homework."
O'Leary says she's been a long-time supporter and 25-year member of the NDP, and will continue to support them.
"I certainly wish Lorraine all the best in her retirement … and I certainly wish the leader all the best, as well," she said.
O'Leary was not at the announcement on Thursday, saying she was not invited to the event, but when she heard the news, she took the day to reassess what she wanted to do.
Before Coffin made the announcement, O'Leary said they met and had a "respectful discussion" about the decision.
This just sends the message that cutthroat politics is on the menu today.- Jenny Wright
She said before she had announced she would be running for the NDP nomination in St. John's East-Quidi Vidi, she had a number of discussions with key people in party, and had made it clear she intended to run.
"I'm certainly disappointed in how things have played out. I'm a passionate, experienced and viable candidate," O'Leary said. "But the party has decided to go in another direction and I respect that, even though I don't necessarily agree with that decision. So it's out of my hands."
At no point, O'Leary said, was it suggested Coffin may also seek to run in that district; rather, there were talks of her running in other metro-area districts — St. John's Centre, for example, where Gerry Rogers has announced she will not be seeking re-election as the NDP MHA.
Jenny Wright, who is on leave as the executive director of the St. John's Status of Women Council and who ran federally for the NDP in 2015, said the party has a lot to answer for its handling of the situation.
"There's so much to unpack, but I find it incredibly perplexing," she said.
"As a long-time NDP member and someone who ran and someone who has worked to get more women in politics, I woke up this morning, I think like so many other people, so incredibly frustrated."
The message it sends, Wright said, isn't one the party should be trying for, adding that O'Leary, or any strong candidate, should have been part of party discussions.
"I found that so frustrating and absolutely disheartening. I mean, a long-time member, a strong candidate. She would have — she had a clear chance of winning, and when you're not consulting that calibre of candidate that is coming forward to run, that sends a terrible sign," Wright said.
"I mean, there was a lot of people missing from that. Gerry Rogers wasn't there. There was no sign of any kind of party strength or agreement going forward, and I think there's gonna be some strong consequences for that."
Wright said there likely will be consequences for the NDP in the pending provincial election.
"What really concerns me is that it sends a real clear message to women and marginalized folks to think twice about running, because you may well be running into a party where you are not going to be supported," Wright said.
"This just sends the message that cutthroat politics is on the menu today."
With files from the St. John's Morning Show