The P.E.I. NDP took an important step towards improving its credibility last weekend with the selection of Leah-Jane Hayward as party president. Whether it comes in time to be a factor in the upcoming byelection in Charlottetown-Parkdale remains to be seen.
Ms. Hayward ran both federally and provincially for the NDP in 2015. She has advocated effectively on social issues for many years and is well respected with her local community.
The spotlight on the new president is an important boost for the party, shut out of the legislature in the 2015 election. The NDP was stung when Green Leader Peter Bevan-Baker won his seat, giving that party an important presence in the House. Mr. Bevan-Baker’s victory threatened to push the province’s long-time, third party aside, although the NDP earned 11 per cent of the popular vote, slightly more than the Green’s 10.8 per cent.
In politics, winning is everything and Mr. Bevan-Baker won his seat following a strategic decision by the Greens to concentrate its resources in getting the leader elected. Mr. Redmond was criticized for leaving his long-time home of Charlottetown to run in Montague-Kilmuir where he had just recently moved. The NDP strategy was to present itself as a viable option for government by running candidates in every riding. It backfired although party candidates came close - in Mr. Redmond’s own riding and several urban districts.
Now he’s back and he’s got Ms. Hayward on board for help. The NDP can do something in this byelection that it failed to address in May 2015 - concentrate its resources on getting its leader elected and bring an NDP voice to the floor of the legislature.
It’s important for the NDP to reassert itself as the viable alternative for voters dissatisfied with traditional Liberal and Progressive Conservative options. The immediate NDP target could be Green candidate Hannah Bell - even more than Liberal Bob Doiron or PC Melissa Hilton.
Ms. Bell is an attractive candidate with a proven record among businesswomen. The NDP needs a strong showing in the byelection where it has to beat back the Green threat. Being competitive sends an important message to Island voters heading into the 2019 provincial election.
If Ms. Hayward can help mobilize supporters in Parkdale and assist Mr. Redmond in convincing voters it’s important to get an NDP voice in the legislature, a victory would be a watershed moment. The result in Charlottetown-Parkdale is really more important to the NDP than any of the other parties.
There are key NDP issues, which should resonate with voters in Charlottetown-Parkdale. A majority of District 11 residents who voted in last year’s plebiscite supported proportional representation. Mr. Redmond will also stress greater supports for mental health, education and providing a basic income guarantee.
An NDP member in the legislature would alter P.E.I.’s entire political conversation. Mr. Redmond would like nothing better than to take on Liberal Premier Wade MacLauchlan in debate on the legislature floor.
It’s an exciting prospect.