Nova Scotia

Nova Scotia's New Democrats elect Gary Burrill as new leader

United Church minister and former Dexter government backbencher Gary Burrill will lead the NDP into the next election. He won a second ballot victory at a leadership convention in Dartmouth Saturday, beating out two sitting MLAs.

Voter turnout was 74.2 per cent, which the party says is a record for electronic voting in Canada

Nova Scotia NDP elected Gary Burrill as the new party leader Saturday. (James Hutt)

Gary Burrill has won the Nova Scotia New Democratic Party leadership vote and he's vowed to take the party back to its roots in hopes of regaining power.

"There's been a real deep sense that the party needs to make a turn in the direction of what I've referred to as social economic and environmental justice," he told reporters at his first news conference as leader.

Burrill is a 60-year-old United Church minister and a former MLA for Colchester-Musquodoboit Valley. He was one of 24 New Democrats to lose their seats in the last election.

Burrill won on a second ballot after none of the three candidates received a majority of votes in the first. 

59 per cent of votes

During that first round of votes, Burrill received 921 votes, Lenore Zann picked up 705 and Dave Wilson picked up 645.

That locked Wilson out of the race and forced a redistribution of his second-place choices. Burrill received 66 per cent of those votes, pushing him to 59 per cent of the overall vote and victory. 

The final tally left Zann with 926 votes to Burrill's 1,343. 

Burrill's priorities

Burrill will have to lead the party from outside the legislature, the way former leader Helen MacDonald did the nine months she was in the job, between July 2000 and April 2001.

MacDonald tried and failed to win a seat in a by-election. Her third place finish was followed by a caucus revolt that led to her resignation.

Burrill says he is in no hurry to test the electorate in similar fashion. Although he suggests there may be no need to given a general election is not that far off.

"We're only just a few months from being in a general election."

Burrill said his immediate focus will be on rebuilding the party's grassroots.

Votes sent message

Burrill's two competitors in the race to replace former premier Darrell Dexter as the permanent leader of the Nova Scotia NDP are sitting MLAs and they had a different view of what the vote meant.

Zann saw it as the rank and file of the party passing judgement on the Dexter years.

"Dave was in the cabinet and he was very close with Darrell and he's in that same circle," she said. "So this way it's somebody completely outside that circle and that sends a big message."

That's not the way Wilson saw it, when asked if this was a message aimed at the government he was part of.

"No not at all. Actually I see the opposite," he said. "I see a party that after a devastating loss in 2013 come together just two short years."

Three people were vying to lead the provincial NDP. From left to right: Gary Burrill, Dave Wilson, and Lenore Zann. ( Scotia Legislature)

Voter turnout 74.2%

All three contenders delivered their last campaign speeches Saturday morning at the party's leadership convention in Dartmouth. Each took a different tack in trying to sway the few members who had not yet cast a ballot.

Burrill garnered the most spontaneous applause for his speech in which he attacked liberal leader Stephen McNeil and the PC's Jamie Baillie.

"Jamie Baillie, Stephen McNeil — the whole works of them — are economic mastodons," Burrill said.

Voter turnout was 74.2 per cent, which the party says is a record for electronic voting in Canada. Results of the second ballot victory were announced at 2:30 p.m.

CBC's Jean Laroche live blogged through the day


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