ST. JOHN’S, N.L. – Newfoundland and Labrador NDP Leader Earle McCurdy has always been quick with a quote but was at a loss for words Tuesday as he announced he’s stepping down.
“Who knows?” he said, when asked what his successor must do to launch the party past its third-place status in the provincial House of Assembly.
“In politics, anything can happen.”
McCurdy said Tuesday he’ll resign at the end of the month to spend more time in Eastport, N.L., where his wife Tracy has a business.
His departure means both opposition parties are looking for new leaders as the majority Liberal government nears the halfway point of its mandate before the next election in 2019. The Progressive Conservatives are to name a new leader in April.
McCurdy is a former fisheries union president who had promised he’d make things “very, very interesting” when he took the helm in March 2015. What started as an optimistic push for political renewal skidded, however, when he failed to win a seat in the subsequent election.
“No question, that was difficult because you’re a little bit on the outside looking in,” he told reporters Tuesday.
“It’s time to move on.”
McCurdy said as leader he fought for more scrutiny of the over-budget $12.7-billion Muskrat Falls hydroelectric project. He also battled policies such as book taxes and proposed library cuts in a province that has high illiteracy rates.
New Democrats in the province need only look to Alberta’s stunning turn of fortunes in 2015 for inspiration, McCurdy added. Political watchers were astounded when the NDP under leader Rachel Notley swept to majority power after decades of Tory rule, he said.
“Who knows what can happen? I think what is important, the people need a choice when they go to the ballot box. The Liberal and Conservative policies are virtually interchangeable.”
Provincial party president Mark Gruchy said the executive will gather next week to plan the leadership selection process.
“We have to talk about all the details at the meeting but it’s going to be a convention and there’s going to be a leadership race.”
Current standings in the House of Assembly are 30 Liberals, seven Progressive Conservatives, two New Democrats and one Independent.
One of those two NDP members, Gerry Rogers, said Tuesday she’ll run to replace McCurdy.
“If the good people of the NDP choose to select me, I’m ready to move forward.”
Rogers believes there’s a growing appetite for political alternatives that put people at the heart of government decisions.
“People know that we have been duped by the two past governments around Muskrat Falls,” she said of the delayed, bloat-prone project now under construction in Labrador. Cost estimates have almost doubled since it was approved by the former Tory government five years ago.
Former NDP leader Lorraine Michael said she’s not interested in competing for her old job. Still, she thinks a leadership contest will boost New Democrats.
“We need a feeling of energy and enthusiasm,” she said. “What we’ve seen is a lot of younger people over the last two years are really getting involved in the party.”
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