Her voice tinged with emotion, Lorraine Michael announced to a gaggle of reporters and her supporters at Confederation Building on Tuesday that she would step down as party leader as soon as the party could find a replacement.
Lorraine would stay on in politics, though, and promised to run in the next provincial election.
Interestingly enough, there have been rumours of growing discontent within the party with Michael’s leadership since last spring. And in December, rumblings started that some within the party wanted Lorraine to go. They were supposedly shopping around the idea of an interim leader. Other versions, as turned up by the Telegram’s James McLeod on Twitter had Michael thinking about quitting.
Whether or not any of that scuttlebutt was even remotely true, Lorraine Michael’s decision puts the NDP in a rough spot, as if being a political void wasn’t bad enough.
Caucus member Gerry Rogers made it clear Tuesday she wouldn’t be running. George Murphy is supposedly mulling things over but frankly he doesn’t stand a chance because he is not ideologically pure enough for the hard core party insiders. Count him out.
Outside the current caucus, federal member of parliament Ryan Cleary has lots of backing among party activists. One major problem for Cleary is that in order to run, he’d have to give up a paycheque and come back to co-lead the party from outside the legislature. In the spring, Cleary would be sitting outside the House as the leader while someone – most likely Lorraine – would still be running things in the House. The whole thing would be like the Yvonne-Jones-Kevin Aylward foolishness in the Liberals after the 2011 election.
The other candidate from outside caucus is former St. John’s city councillor Sheilagh O’Leary. She’s got lots of support among the party faithful and is already quietly campaigning for the job. That sums up what Sheilagh brings to the table. If she won the leadership, then the same split leadership scenario would apply.
The big difference between those two scenarios is that the Cleary/Michael one would only make the internal divisions within the NDP even larger and sharper. Cleary and Michael have egos bigger than all get-out. They’d be at each other’s throats continuously. Sheilagh, on the other hand, would basically be the face of the party while Lorraine and her crowd actually ran things from inside. That would be nicer for Lorraine and, on that basis, we should expect that the party executive will skew toward a Sheilagh scenario.
With either Ryan or Sheilagh, the provincial NDP can safely stay where they were, which is essentially where people inside the party want them to be: politically irrelevant but able to stand on the sidelines and shout about their moral superiority to everyone else.
If these wanted anything else, they wouldn’t have backed Lorraine in the first place. After all, she quite clearly had neither the plan nor even the desire to develop the party into a organization that could actually fight and win an election.
The racket in 2013 was about that very issue. Some people wanted to organize to win an election. Lorraine didn’t. She won. The people interested in accomplishing something left and joined with people who might have a chance to actually implement policy. The rest repaired to the Ship where they could sit, self-satisfied and smug in their ideological purity but utterly useless.
Lorraine represented those people faithfully. Over Christmas and in her resignation speech, Lorraine denigrated the other political parties for focussing on “politics” as opposed to whatever it is that Lorraine and her political party are doing. Certainly whatever Lorraine was up to, it had nothing to do with issues people are concerned about. If it was, then the polls would reflect public support for the NDP.
On Tuesday, things got a lot worse politically for the NDP. That will become more apparent in the weeks and months ahead.