It is trite to say Lorraine Michael loved being leader of the New Democratic Party. It was as if her years as a social activist had prepared her for the role. Of course, the love wasn’t always requited. Things did not go as she might have liked, either. But, then, seldom do they for most leaders. Her resignation, last week, suggests an appraisal of her performance is required, as well as that of her Party, as it heads into a new leadership

It also goes
without saying Ms. Michael will be recognized and applauded for having won five
seats in the last election; the NDP’s previous best achievement was just one. For
most of the Party’s fifty-four years of political history, the number was zero.

success was due, in part, to her personal credibility, intelligence, and the
passions that inspired her well-articulated support of social policy
issues.  The fact that the additional
seats were won when the electorate was still suffering “Dan-gue” fever added to
the achievement; the NDP enjoyed popular support reaching 20%, according to CRA
Polls (a virtual tie with the Liberals), up to the time of its sudden implosion.

It is easy enough
to dismiss the Party because Messrs. Kirby and Mitchelmore left in a fit of pique
amidst a full blown caucus revolt; undermining its progress and Michael’s
leadership. Their move certainly impacted the Party’s fortunes, but I am
doubtful it is the sole cause.

failed to lever the Party’s brief growth spurt, to become a bigger, better
defined ‘idea’.  Had Ms. Michael insisted
on changing her Party, in an effort to make the political roots of the NDP deeper,
the exit of the two caucus members might have been an incident rather than a

The change to
which I refer speaks, in part, to the NDP’s inability to converse in matters economic;
but its political capital is also limited.

While, at
the federal level, Jack Layton’s personal charisma had immense popular appeal,
his capacities were not only in the manufacture of lip balm; he was still able to
allay popular fears the NDP could not be trusted, in spite of its seemingly
unbridled social policy agenda.

Locally, the
NDP never achieved that credibility.  Neither
Ms. Michael nor her predecessors exhibited the capacity, or the interest, to
develop an economic policy agenda that could be assessed. 

Any Party that
refuses recognition of a government’s financial limitations exposes its own. 

NDP Leader Lorraine Michael
For that
reason, the NDP is, and has always been, less a political party than an
advocacy group.

The Party
boasts alignment with labour, with citizens on the lower economic strata, with
the few who believe in unrestrained state involvement in social programs and in
the economy, with select causes and social issues. But most of the people who
embrace those same ideas are not aligned with the NDP.  They will not vote NDP.  

NL does not
have the population size or voter demographic large enough to sustain multiple
parties. Implicitly, if the role of a political party is to get elected, a
status that affords influence on the passage of laws and the potential to form
a government, one would expect the NDP to take actions that broaden its voter base. 

 A strategy of reform and inclusiveness is one from which the Party has recoiled; it seems afraid to wander outside
its comfortable pew suggesting, perhaps, it is hidebound by ideology;
handcuffed from even displaying the desire to embrace political pragmatism.  But this argument is incomplete.

The NDP has
watched public service bloat on a huge scale, at the expense of sensible social
programs and public infrastructure; surely it cannot be so inward looking not
to have noticed. It advocates for the poor and under-privileged; but it does
not speak their language. The problem is even larger.

Labour, in
this province, is decidedly middle class.

unions have demonstrated no capacity to represent middle class interests beyond
those that affect the work place or that have a direct bearing on the size of
its dues paying membership.

Unions use
the NDP as a convenient mouthpiece for their self-serving purposes; but the
financial, organizational and popular support labour can theoretically give the
Party, (what it needs to thrive), is missing. The NDP likes to exhibit its love
affair with organized labour; but there, too, the love is unrequited. The Party’s potential
larger constituency understands it plays second fiddle in the arrangement and
votes for another brand; one with which it perceives better alignment.  

When the NDP was 20% in the Polls was a perfect time to attempt making it more relevant. Lorraine ought to have consulted the scribbles of British PM Tony Blair on how he converted the Labour Party from what the Economist described as “…a grumbling socialist backwater into a centrist electoral machine…”. Of course, she would have had to put her 
e-reader on fast forward to get past the Iraq decision and Blair’s Messiah complex; Mow Mowlam, his ‘case-hardened’ Minister of State having once opined, Tony “thinks he’s fucking Jesus”.  

Ms. Michael’s
inability to sustain the Party’s growth was not the only failure recorded
during her tenure.

She was
unable to engage the NDP in even a shallow assessment of the most dangerous
public policy initiative in our history – the Government’s approval of the
Muskrat Falls project.  She chose,
instead (like the Liberals), to pick at the fringes of the issue.

in making this choice, Ms. Michael shielded the Party from rebuke by her trade
union cohorts. I doubt she was taken in by the polar vortex of uninspired nonscence of a Danny Williams, as were so many others. Regardless, willfully blind, she made a conscious choice to risk not just
advancement, but the very maintenance of the social programs that are the NDP’s
hobby horse. As U.S. $50 oil and Nalcor’s overruns join with Tory incompetence in inflicting fiscal
pain on the province, the NDP may wish it had been more courageous. 

Likely, for all these reasons, the NDP’s fortunes in the next
election will, again, replicate its previous lengthy period of drought. At
least, Ms. Michael has afforded her Party a glimpse of itself as something

On the most
practical level, the NDP needs to learn what other parties seem to have forgotten:
the love politicians seek from the public is unrequited because it is not love,
but leadership, they desire.

Michael’s successes as a politician, adds to her stellar record as an educator
and social activist.  

This scribe, one of
her former students, has always been grateful for her unwavering dedication and
Des Sullivan
Des Sullivan
St. John's, Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada Uncle Gnarley is hosted by Des Sullivan, of St. John's. He is a businessman engaged over three decades in real estate management and development companies and in retail. He is currently a Director of Dorset Investments Limited and Donovan Holdings Limited. During his early career he served as Executive Assistant to Premier's Frank D. Moores (1975-1979) and Brian Peckford (1979-1985). He also served as a Part-Time Board Member on the Canada-Newfoundland Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board (C-NLOPB). Uncle Gnarley appears on the masthead representing serious and unambiguous positions on NL politics and public policy. Uncle Gnarley is a fiscal conservative possessing distinctly liberal values and a non-partisan persusasion. Those values and opinions underlie this writer's views on NL's politics, economy and society. Uncle Gnarley publishes Monday mornings and more often when events warrant.


Bill left public life shortly after the signing of the Atlantic Accord and became a member of the Court of Appeal until his retirement in 2003. During his time on the court he was involved in a number of successful appeals which overturned wrongful convictions, for which he was recognized by Innocence Canada. Bill had a special place in his heart for the underdog.

Churchill Falls Explainer (Coles Notes version)

If CFLCo is required to maximize its profit, then CFLCo should sell its electricity to the highest bidder(s) on the most advantageous terms available.


This is the most important set of negotiations we have engaged in since the Atlantic Accord and Hibernia. Despite being a small jurisdiction we proved to be smart and nimble enough to negotiate good deals on both. They have stood the test of time and have resulted in billions of dollars in royalties and created an industry which represents over a quarter of our economy. Will we prove to be smart and nimble enough to do the same with the Upper Churchill?