Nova Scotia·Opinion

Graham Steele: The Darrell Dexter era is over. Who's next?

Darrell Dexter resigned over the weekend as leader of Nova Scotia's New Democratic Party. Graham Steele takes a look at the possible contenders for the party's leadership.

Peter Stoffer, Dave Wilson, Lenore Zann are possible contenders

The Darrell Dexter era is over; politics moves on. The focus turns to who might come next.

This leadership contest will be a struggle within the New Democratic Party about how to respond to the party's crushing defeat in the Oct. 8 election. Party members will be looking for a leader who best fits their version of the carnage.

The hard left's story, for example, is that Dexter's government wasn't left enough — so they’ll look for a true lefty. Others will reject anyone too closely tied to Dexter. Others will just be looking for the next electoral winner.

Former premier Darrell Dexter resigned as leader of the New Democratic Party on Saturday. (CBC)

Rebuilding will not be quick. The New Democratic Party needs someone who can commit to a rebuilding process that could take 10 years. This will rule out otherwise capable people such as Maureen MacDonald and Frank Corbett — both longtime MLAs who have represented their constituents for 15 years.

It will be a big help if the person already has a seat in the legislature. It's difficult to make an impact from outside the house.

The New Democrats have been through this before with Helen MacDonald and the Liberals with Francis MacKenzie, neither of whom was elected while leader. Liberal Leader Danny Graham started outside the house, but only really came into his own when he was elected in 2003.

This is not an absolute requirement. An incumbent might resign to make way for a new leader, but that's a pretty risky way to get a seat.

Who are the contenders?

Within the depleted caucus of seven, I would look to former Health Minister Dave Wilson and Truro–Bible Hill–Millbrook–Salmon River MLA Lenore Zann.

Despite what people think, experience counts in politics. As former prime minister Paul Martin was quoted as saying, "It's not as easy as it looks." Dave brings 10 years in the legislature and experience in what I believe is the toughest portfolio in government.

Lenore would bring a totally fresh, unique voice to the leadership contest. She showed she could get re-elected in an untraditional seat when everything was running against the NDP. She has guts and depth.

Peter Stoffer, the current Member of Parliament for Sackville–Eastern Shore, has not yet ruled out a leadership run for Nova Scotia's New Democratic Party. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

The most intriguing possibility is Peter Stoffer, the current Member of Parliament for Sackville–Eastern Shore. The other New Democrat MPs from Nova Scotia — Robert Chisholm and Megan Leslie — quickly ruled out a leadership run. Peter did not, which means he's interested.

Peter has shown, over 16 years in federal politics, that he is the consummate people person. His constituents love him. He is regularly voted most popular MP on Parliament Hill. He has a national reputation for his work on behalf of veterans. And — what may be most important of all in Nova Scotia — he is not associated with the Dexter government.

I will not be a contender. After being beaten up and bruised for 12 years on the political ice, I’m enjoying some time in the broadcast booth. Besides: I haven't got what it takes to be a good leader. Let me be the first to say it.

I'm pretty sure there will be other contenders. Back in 2001, after Robert Chisholm resigned and the party was demoralized, there were still five contenders for the leadership.

Depending on the rules, we'll probably see one or more other candidates, particularly from party factions who want to make a point about what was wrong with the Dexter government. It's hard to predict who they will be because by definition, they come out of left field — pardon the pun.

The New Democratic Party need not be in any hurry. The Liberals took two years to fill the leader's job after Russell MacLellan resigned in 2000. Maureen MacDonald will be a steady hand as interim leader.

Besides, if Peter Stoffer really is interested, it would be convenient to wait until his term as MP is up in 2015.


Graham Steele

Political analyst

Graham Steele is a former MLA who was elected four times as a New Democrat for the constituency of Halifax Fairview. He also served as finance minister. Steele is now a political analyst for CBC News.


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