Nova Scotia

New Democratic Party leadership hopefuls courting member support

Gary Burrill, Dave Wilson and Lenore Zann will be campaigning at this weekend's annual general meeting for the provincial New Democratic Party.

Lenore Zann, Gary Burrill and Dave Wilson will be campaigning at party's general meeting

Gary Burrill, Lenore Zann and Dave Wilson have announced they'll seek the party leadership, which will be decided in February. (CBC)

The three people who want to replace Darrell Dexter as leader of Nova Scotia's New Democratic Party will be busy on Saturday at the party's annual general meeting.

The meeting is billed as a training session to grow party membership and support, and the contenders will be looking to add to their support by convincing new people to join the party and their teams.

This will be the first time — since making their intentions to run for the party leadership known — that Gary Burrill, Dave Wilson and Lenore Zann will be openly campaigning at a major party gathering.

That's because under the leadership rules, official campaigning can only start at the this year's meeting.

Wilson and Zann both hold seats in the Nova Scotia legislature. Burrill, a United Church minister, was an MLA from 2009 to 2013. He was defeated in the last election by another United Church minister, Progressive Conservative Larry Harrison.

The leadership convention weekend, when the new leader will be announced, is on Feb. 27 and Feb. 28. It's a one-member, one-vote system. The voting start date and how the vote will be conducted will be decided at a council meeting in October.

'We are really excited'

Although the leadership vote is still eight months away, party president Paula Simon said party members will turn their attention to the leadership contest now.

"We are really excited about the leadership and choosing a new leader," said Simon.

Leadership hopefuls can join the race up to a month before the vote, so there's also a chance there will be more than three contenders in this race.

Some in the party would like to see high profile MPs Peter Stoffer and Megan Leslie enter the fray, but both have said there are happy in their current jobs. Both are running for re-election. A defeat might lead to a change of heart.

MP Robert Chisholm, who once led the provincial party, has said he's not interested in the job.

Of the three current contenders, Wilson has the most political experience. The former paramedic has been in the House for 12 years, most notably as Minister of Health in Dexter's cabinet. He represents Sackville-Cobequid, the riding once held by party stalwart John Holm.

Support of caucus colleagues

Wilson has the support of former caucus colleagues Pam Birdsall, Becky Kent and John MacDonell. All three lost their seats in the 2013 election. MacDonell ran for the leadership of the party in 2002, but lost to Dexter.

Maureen MacDonald, as interim leader, is keeping her choice to herself — in keeping with party tradition.

Zann is a former Hollywood actor who was first elected in 2009 and re-elected in 2013. She is the MLA for Truro-Bible Hill-Millbrook-Salmon River. Zann has the support of caucus colleague Denis Peterson-Rafuse, as well as former MLAs Ross Landry and Peter Delefes.

Burrill was a one-term provincial politician who now splits his time between his home in Upper Musquodoboit and Sydney, where he is overseeing the merger of three United Church congregations with a Baptist one.

His campaign team includes long-time MLA Howard Epstein and union organizer Kyle Buott.

Each candidate must raise $15,000 as a party donation to join the race and each campaign team can then raise up to $60,000. They can only raise the money from individuals, not unions, organizations or corporations. Any single donation cannot exceed $5,000. 

Sterling Belliveau, caucus chair, is undecided who he will support.

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