A former NDP candidate for Corner Brook says he wants a leadership review by the provincial NDP.
Graham Downey-Sutton, who announced Jan. 15 he would step down as the NDP nominee for the district, released a video on social media Tuesday citing ongoing family issues as well as concerns over provincial NDP Leader Alison Coffin and the provincial campaign director for the NDP, Mat Whynott.
Downey-Sutton told SaltWire Network he didn’t feel there was a lot of support from Coffin for a PET scanner or the hospital generally in Corner Brook, and when he had tried to get more support, he wasn’t happy with the response.
Good evening folks. Here are the reasons why I stepped down as the NDP candidate for Corner Brook. - The NDP's handling of the PET scanner issue was a big reason.Posted by Graham Downey-Sutton on Tuesday, January 19, 2021
“Essentially, all they did was put out a social media statement that (Coffin) had been born in the Corner Brook Hospital, that her mother had worked there and that she was an unequivocal supporter of the hospital and the PET scanner,” he said.
“That was fine, but people had questions about a statement she made in the past about the future of the hospital and they were asking me about it. Here I was trying my best to support this, and people were wondering if the leader even supported a hospital being there.”
Downey-Sutton has been active on the PET scanner issue, organizing a petition and leading a rally in October. The scanner was promised by former premier Dwight Ball in 2014, and whether or not the region would get one has been a topic of contention in recent weeks.
"Here I was trying my best to support this, and people were wondering if the leader even supported a hospital being there.” — Graham Downey-Sutton
Downey-Sutton, a cancer survivor, said a PET scanner is a critical piece of equipment for the region and that what he perceives as lack of support from Coffin on the issue led to him losing confidence in her.
Downey-Sutton said he wants a leadership review at this year’s convention, adding he isn’t the only person with concerns.
He said he also had issues with Whynott, a former Nova Scotia NDP MLA who has been hired as the provincial campaign director by the Newfoundland and Labrador NDP.
Downey-Sutton said he felt uncomfortable with some of the advice Whynot gave him and didn’t think it was appropriate how elected members deferred to him, and that Whynott doesn’t understand the issues facing the province.
“Nothing against Nova Scotians ... my father is a Nova Scotian. I think it’s a great place, but Newfoundland and Labrador and Nova Scotia are two very different provinces with two very unique sets of problems,” he said. “We have an elected executive doing whatever he says and that just seems undemocratic to me.”
Downey-Sutton said he was told not to bring up issues such as social and environmental justice because they don’t get votes, issues he feels are core to the NDP.
"He voiced his opinions for sure and he knows how to reach me if he wants to discuss the rest of it a little further.” — Alison Coffin
SaltWire spoke to Coffin about the video, who said that while she hadn’t seen it, she understood Downey-Sutton had withdrawn as a candidate due to family issues.
“I have a great deal of respect for giving people time to do that,” she said. “As for the rest, he voiced his opinions for sure and he knows how to reach me if he wants to discuss the rest of it a little further.”
When asked about the comments regarding Whynott, Coffin said it was his job to direct the campaign, which would involve things like giving advice to candidates.
“He’s making sure we’re all aligned on the same messaging, making sure the candidates are well supported," she said. "He’s doing his job. I don’t know what more there is to say about that.”
Evan Careen is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter for SaltWire Network.