Monday, 13 June 2016

What's Next for the NDP?

What’s Next for the NDP?

By: Ryan Young
The NDP held their annual convention this past weekend in St. John’s, and voted 91.6% to keep Earle McCurdy on as leader. This is not surprising as there is really nobody waiting in the wings to take over the leadership of the party. Despite placing 3rd in St. John’s West in the election and not having a seat in the house, Earle has been a fairly effective leader. His glib comments always make a direct point and he is never shy to speak his mind. The problem with Earle is not his leadership, it is his baggage. In rural Newfoundland and Labrador, McCurdy will always be known as the FFAW traitor. It doesn’t matter if you think this is true, what matters is that rural voters think it is true. The FFAW has always had a tenacious relationship with rural areas of the province and that identification has followed Earle to the NDP. I had the pleasure of driving 3500km around the island last summer, and I took the time to talk politics in every little town I visited. The answer to the NDP question was always the same. People might be willing to vote for the party but not with Earle as leader.

So how do they tackle the problem of reaching out to rural voters? If Earle can’t lead the party out of the rural wilderness, then who can? After giving it a bit of thought I have come to the conclusion that in order to gain support in rural, they will need to attract a quality rural leader. Ideally it would be someone a little younger than our regular leaders, and someone that is not tainted by politics already. It will be a tall order to fill, but if they can find that person they just might have a chance at building credibility among rural voters.

Another stigma the party faces is its image as a labour party. I know many people are against the unions. I a not one of them, but I do understand why some people feel the way they do. Part of it is our jealous nature but part of it is also that people feel that the unions have helped to create the mess we are in. Again, I disagree. While the amount we spend on public service salaries and benefits is staggering to say the least, the real bloat in the public sector comes from the appointed bureaucrats that often earn salaries much larger than our elected officials. These appointed managers are accountable to no one, and they are the real waste that we need to address in our public service sector. Our mess was not made by library workers or teachers or nurses, but you better believe that they will be the ones to take the fall when our government makes cuts to public sector spending. Our public sector unions represent many of the most important workers in our province and they need to be supported. Certainly the unions have a role to play in helping to fix the mess, but it is not fair to lay the blame at their feet for our fiscal situation.

One of the most important things that came out of the convention this weekend was a changing of the guard in the party executive. Lawyer and Mental Health Advocate Mark Gruchy was elected as president of the party and MUN economist Allison Coffin became vice president. Having an economist on the executive can only be good for the NDP, and may go a long way to gaining credibility for their future fiscal policies.

Many NDP supporters should be excited to see Mr. Gruchy take over as president of the party. Mark does not pull any punches and he has been very vocal in saying that the party needs to make some big changes in the way they organize if the are ever going to have a real shot at governing. I am not totally convinced that the party will be able to gain enough credibility to be a viable option in 2019, (or sooner) but with Mark Gruchy’s determination and leadership they at least have a chance. It will be interesting to see what the NDP looks like when Gruchy and Coffin have a chance to put their fingerprints on party policy. Will it be enough to turn the tide and get elected? Certainly it will be an uphill battle, but I give them more of a chance today than I did on Friday.

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