NDP members in P.E.I. will decide this weekend who should lead the party into the next provincial election.
Candidates Margaret Andrade, Joe Byrne and Susan MacVittie are the three choices party members will have during the leadership convention at Murphy’s Community Centre on Saturday.
The convention, which will be held following the party’s annual meeting, will include a meet-and-greet and guest speech by federal NDP leader Jagmeet Singh.
All three candidates are vying to replace former leader Mike Redmond, who resigned last December, and have confirmed they’ll seek the chance to run in the next provincial election regardless of whether they are the NDP leader.
Throughout the campaign and during debates, the candidates have shared similar concerns on issues such as poverty, health-care access, food security, affordable housing, a guaranteed basic income and other topics central to the NDP’s social justice platform.
The Guardian asked the candidates, among other questions, what they felt the top issue is for Islanders, how they plan to grow the party and what their first move would be if elected.
Susan MacVittie feels the NDP is the true voice of Islanders.
She also says she has the skills needed to make that voice resonate louder throughout the province.
MacVittie feels she has the energy as well as the organizational and outreach skills to grow the party, referring to her experience as a member of the provincial council and the party’s communications and fundraising committees.
“I’ve been involved in the party doing some of the hands-on work, so I also have a working knowledge of the party here and what’s needed to grow the party,” said MacVittie, who added her first move if elected would be to continue reaching out to community members and organizations.
“That’s the part of this I really look forward to. I really enjoy meeting people and advocating for people. That’s an MLA’s job. It isn’t just as a legislator, it’s to be a voice for his or her constituents.”
MacVittie previously worked as an outreach organizer and scheduler for Courtenay-Alberni NDP MP Gord Johns in British Columbia. A fourth-generation Islander, she returned home after living on Vancouver Island for several years. She worked as a managing editor for an environmental news magazine.
Even while living on Vancouver Island, MacVittie says she was aware of the issues in P.E.I., many of which affect Canadians throughout the country.
Her two main issues, while tough to narrow down, would be health care and poverty. She would also like to create long-term strategies on affordable housing and physician recruitment.
“(I’m) letting Islanders know what the NDP stands for, which is being a voice for regular people and having government work for the people,” she said.
“Everything the NDP does, we do through the lens of what is going to benefit people from the decision making of government.”
Joe Byrne doesn’t just want to hear the issues affecting Islanders.
He also wants to include them in the solution.
Byrne said his leadership campaign has involved speaking with many current NDP members while recruiting new ones.
The outreach is unlikely to end if the Charlottetown resident becomes leader, with Byrne noting his first priority would be to start preparing for an impending provincial election.
With more than 20 years of experience with the party, as well as running for the NDP federally during the past two elections, Byrne knows the key to growing the party is meeting more people.
“There’s only one way to do this, and that’s by going out and listening to people, saying ‘this is what I think the priorities are’ and then inviting people to be part of that solution,” said Byrne. “I think that if we take that message as a party to every corner of P.E.I., we’ll find most Islanders are naturally New Democrats. We want not just what’s best for us, we want what’s best for our neighbours and friends.”
If elected, Byrne said he would want to collaborate with others and added he’s learned through his background in community organization and activism that “none of us has all the right ideas all the time, but all of us have some of the right ideas all of the time.”
Byrne’s key issue is income inequality, a message he said is now resonating with Islanders who don’t traditionally vote NDP.
Byrne said solving income inequality would also alleviate other challenges in areas like health and affordable housing.
“There is enough wealth in this province for everybody as long as we make sure that we share it properly,” said Byrne. “(Income inequality) is not the only issue, but it is the key one.”
Margaret Andrade feels Islanders are ready for a grassroots takeover.
And she wants to lead it.
Andrade said the leadership campaign has been rejuvenating the NDP on P.E.I. while also showing Islanders’ dissatisfaction with the current government.
While there hasn’t been one particular issue at the forefront of the campaign, a common message Andrade has heard is over “how much people want the liberal government out of office.”
“The government is not having conversations with the public when it comes to making decisions that directly affect them, it’s really quite alarming,” said Andrade, who ran for the NDP federally during the 2015 election in the district of Leeds-Grenville-Thousand Islands and Rideau Lakes in Ontario.
“People really want change, and I think they’re ready for it… There are a lot of people who have been quiet, and I think it’s time for us to start making some noise.”
Andrade has immersed herself in P.E.I. politics since moving to the province with her son more than a year and a half ago.
She previously served as municipal councillor in central Alberta and was elected during a turnover that saw much of the town’s incumbent councillors replaced.
Andrade sees the same grassroots passion in PE.I. and said
while the NDP has a number of strong policies, the party needs to develop an overall platform for further growth.
“The sooner we have that together, the sooner we can work with candidates and get everybody ready so Islanders can understand what the New Democrats are about and what they’d achieve,” said Andrade, noting if she becomes P.E.I.’s first NDP premier her first step would be a “complete going over of the books.”
“Then it would be a matter of sitting down with corporations, farmers, all different kinds of groups.
“My dream is that we become the first province in Canada that runs on renewable energy… I think that could happen sooner rather than later.”