IN THE NEWS ~ Newfoundland fertile ground for NDP

Published | Publié:
Received | Reçu: 2012-09-16 5:14 AM

Newfoundland fertile ground for NDP

Greg Locke

   ST. JOHN'S, N.L. - The orange wave washed into St. John's earlier this
month, bringing 101 NDP MPs on a fall retreat and federal caucus meeting. In its
wake were the national news media bringing the news from the far east of a party
that is preparing to take on Stephen Harper and the Conservatives when the House
of Commons opens tomorrow.

   With only two MPs from Newfoundland and Labrador and dozens from other
provinces it might seem an unlikely and out of the way place but, besides St.
John's being a great place to visit, there is an undercurrent that tells the

   With the NDP having conquered Quebec, for now at least, the seven
Newfoundland and Labrador seats are seen as attainable. At first wash it might
seem ridiculous and they have never held many seats here, but the NDP has always
been there, just under the surface, in both federal and provincial politics.

   In the traditionally conservative urban ridings of St. John's and the
strong labour riding of western Labrador they have held seats historically and
consistently enjoy strong support.

   Currently, Jack Harris holds St. John's East and Ryan Cleary holds St.
John's South-Mount Pearl federally. In the last provincial election the NDP came
within one seat of forming the official Opposition to the once all-powerful
Progressive Conservative Party, whose polling numbers are sinking fast since
uber-popular former leader Danny Williams jumped ship nearly two years ago.

   With the provincial Liberals in disarray and the NDP buoyed by a jump in
popularity, they sound like an opposition party as they get out in front of the
Liberals and ruling PCs on many issues publicly. The NDP has a long
institutional memory here with longtime members still around as younger members
join and take over the helm.

   MP and defence critic Jack Harris has been a member of the provincial
legislature, a party leader and twice an MP in his 30-year career as a
politician representing various rejigged St. John's ridings.

   The NDP organization in this province is not divided between federal and
provincial parties like the Liberals and Conservatives. They are one team that
works together on every election its members are contesting, be it federal,
provincial or now it seems, municipal. NDP leader Thomas Mulcair and other
high-profile members have been a regular sight in Newfoundland since the federal
election. Mulcair even delved into St. John's municipal politics by endorsing
city councillor Sheilagh O'Leary in the next mayoral election.

   Mulcair says the NDP is resurgent in Atlantic Canada because NDP values
line up with Atlantic Canada's values on social issues and there is a clearly
defined line between NDP and Conservatives. He says Conservative MP Peter
Penashue's Labrador seat is on the NDP hunting list, as Penashue won with a slim
majority and his performance has been very weak as a cabinet minister in Stephen
Harper's government.

   Caucus chairman Peter Julian said members will fan out across the province
to attend events in every riding to reach out to people in rural areas and
entice them to move away from their historic Liberal-Tory voting habits. With
Newfoundland's strong labour movement, you'd think it would be an easy catch for
the party.

   Do the meagre seven seats of Newfoundland and Labrador mean anything in
the big ocean of federal politics?

   Not normally, but in the turbulent political environment of recent years
with minority governments and tenuous majorities, every seat counts and the NDP
is going fishing in every pond.

   Greg Locke is The Chronicle Herald's correspondent in Newfoundland and
Labrador. ILLUS: NDP Leader Tom Mulcair delivers the opening remarks at the
party's annual summer caucus retreat in St. John's, N.L., earlier this month.
(Paul Daly / The Canadian Press)