PEI

Joe Byrne steps down as leader of P.E.I. NDP

Joe Byrne has resigned as the leader of the New Democratic Party of Prince Edward Island.

'The party is ready for a new voice and a new face'

'Leading a party like ours is a special privilege and one for which I am thankful,' Joe Byrne says. (Kerry Campbell/CBC)

Joe Byrne has resigned as the leader of the New Democratic Party of Prince Edward Island.

Byrne has been leader of the party since 2018 and his resignation was announced early Tuesday evening in a news release from the party.

In an interview shortly after the announcement, Byrne told CBC News that the time was right for a change.

"Nobody knows when there's going to be another election, we have to go through a whole bunch of changes that we're going through in the province," he said.

"It takes a lot of time, which has been in short supply through these pandemic times, and the party is ready for a new voice and a new face."

Joe Byrne accepted his new position as leader of the provincial NDP alongside his wife and daughter. (Brittany Spencer/CBC)

Looking ahead, P.E.I. and the NDP will need to deal with the impact of COVID-19 on the education system when students return to classes, he said, as well as income insecurity.

"There's a lot of talented, great people in the party, so it's a good time."

He said he wants to see women, Black people, Indigenous people and people of colour raised up within the party.

"Our society needs that kind of leadership, we need that kind of life experience that it brings, the different perspectives that women and BIPOC people bring to politics — our province would benefit from it."

Joe Byrne makes an announcement in Charlottetown during the 2019 provincial election campaign. (Sarah MacMillan/CBC)

Byrne said he is a committed New Democrat and will continue to work with the party behind the scenes.

"I'm not leaving the party, I'm just resigning from the leadership. But I continue to be an active New Democrat and supportive, and I'll continue to be involved," he said.

A moment of reflection

He said the party has shared the same message for decades.

"One of hope, one of inclusion, one of challenging the status quo," he said.

"I know our ideas are the right ones because they get adopted," he said, citing the basic income guarantee the party proposed nearly 30 years ago and "now we're on the cusp of actually seeing that happen."

'I have no fear that they'll make the right decisions for the Island New Democrats,' Byrne says of the party choosing a new leader. (Brian Higgins/CBC)

"It's not always easy to campaign on, but they are the right ideas," he said.

There has been some "waxing and waning" as the NDP has struggled to gain traction in the province.

"I think what we have to continue to do is build, be consistent and clear and concise on our messaging, like what are our hopes and dreams for the Island, and how do we expect to get there," he said, of issues like lands protections, the climate crisis and making marginalized people across the board feel welcome and able to access the political process.

"That's our job. There's no trick on it, you just have to keep at it all the time," he said.

Byrne ran unsuccessfully for the federal riding of Charlottetown in 2011, 2015 and 2019.

He also ran in the 2019 P.E.I. provincial election and lost in District 12.

NDP P.E.I. president Jason Alward will act as the party spokesperson until a new leader is chosen.

The party's council will eventually decide its permanent leadership.

"I have no fear that they'll make the right decisions for the Island New Democrats, and I'm looking forward to seeing what those decisions are, but I won't pre-empt them," he said.

The party plans to meet later this month to decide its next steps.

More from CBC P.E.I.

With files from Stephanie Kelly and Wayne Thibodeau

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