Nova Scotia·Opinion

What the loss of Gordie Gosse and Frank Corbett means for the NDP

The loss of two veteran MLAs is naturally a blow for the New Democratic Party and there is no guarantee that they will be able to carry one or both of the Cape Breton byelections, writes political analyst Graham Steele.

Political analyst Graham Steele says it's a blow for the party

MLAs Frank Corbett and Gordie Gosse both announced their resignations on Thursday. (CBC)

Gordie Gosse and Frank Corbett are resigning their seats in the House of Assembly. They were my colleagues for long years, and I have enormous respect for them both.

Their reasons for leaving are very different.

For Gordie, it's health. Gordie is sick and he and his family need time to look after themselves.

Gordie is a marvellous constituency politician, one of the best. He knows his community inside out. He knows the people of Whitney Pier — and they know him. Whenever a proposal was made in caucus or in the legislature, Gordie would know who in his community it would impact, and how to make it better for them.

In 2011, Gordie became the Speaker of the House of Assembly. Who would have guessed that this former steelworker would excel at that job too? Other people might get wrapped up in the pomp and circumstance, but not Gordie. It just wasn't in him to be anything other than truly, authentically himself. He brought his ready humour, as well as his glare, and won the respect of the House.

Gordie Gosse is all heart — and he wore it on his sleeve — and people love him for it.

Darrell Dexter's right-hand man

When Frank Corbett decided to run for the NDP in 1998, he probably didn't know that he was going to win, never mind that the party would explode from four seats to 19.

Frank is the son of a coal miner, and never forgot his roots. He took a different path than his father, into the news business as a cameraman, but he was a union man too. Almost alone among the NDP caucus, Frank had extensive, hands-on experience with collective bargaining. That experience was invaluable when he moved into politics and eventually into government.

I don't think most people appreciate how heavy a load Frank carried in the Dexter government. He doesn't get the credit he deserves because most of his responsibilities were behind the scenes — chairing the all-important Treasury Board, overseeing public sector contract negotiations, government House leader.

He was Darrell's right-hand man — a role that Darrell acknowledged by naming Frank deputy premier.

Frank is also loyal, and ran in the 2013 election mainly out of loyalty to his leader.

It is no surprise to me that Frank is not completing his term. It's hard, after serving at senior levels in government, to go back to opposition. I had, however, expected Frank to hold on just a little longer.

The New Democratic Party is looking for a new leader, and that new leader will not necessarily have a seat in the House. Depending on where the new leader is from, either Frank or Maureen MacDonald could have stepped down and open the way for quick entry to the legislature. One of those options is now closed.

No guarantees in Cape Breton

There are now three vacancies in the House, along with the Dartmouth seat left vacant by the recent, untimely death of Allan Rowe. I expect the premier to call the byelections shortly after the House finishes the current session.

It won't be sooner, because the premier will want to be sure his candidates are lined up and that his party machinery is oiled and ready.

The premier has to be careful: if next week's budget is painful, the byelections could turn into a referendum on the McNeil government.

The loss of two veteran MLAs is naturally a blow for the New Democratic Party. They are down to a caucus of five, and there is no guarantee that they will be able to carry one or both of the Cape Breton byelections.

The New Democrats have struggled to make inroads in Cape Breton, even during the 2009 triumph. During the 2013 debacle, the two seats might well have been lost but for Gordie's and Frank's personal pull.

To lose one Cape Breton byelection would be hard. To lose both — and be shut out of Cape Breton again — would be a calamity for a party that can't stand much more bad news.

But for Gordie Gosse and Frank Corbett, those worries belong to someone else. A long chapter in their lives is closing. They have served their province well.

About the Author

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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