Nova Scotia NDP looking for post-election boost from leadership contest, membership drive

The Nova Scotia NDP is hoping its leadership contest and annual membership drive will help it build momentum after it failed to gain much ground in last summer’s election.

Current leader Gary Burrill announced his intention to step down after the party won six seats in August — one more than it entered the election with, but one less than it picked up in 2017.

“I think coming out of the last election, there’s a lot of excitement,” NDP provincial secretary Jamie Masse said. “I think Gary has done an incredible job carrying the party to the point where we’re at. And I think we’re excited to elect our next leader, whomever that may be.”

The process for choosing the new leader will be similar to the one that elevated Burrill to the top job in 2016, but there are a few differences.

“The cost of the leadership is a little less than the last time,” Masse said. Candidates will have to pay $10,000 in entrance fees rather than the $15,000 that was required in 2016.

The leadership race will also be shorter in duration this time around, with less than five months between the Jan. 30 opening of nominations and the June 20-25 voting period. “That’s probably the biggest change,” Masse said.

The spending limit for candidates will remain $60,000. And the process will once again feature computer and telephone voting, preferential ballots, and a one member, one vote policy.

The NDP is currently engaged in its annual membership drive. Anyone who joins or renews by May 30 will be eligible to vote for the party’s next leader.

The extra enticement of participating in the leadership selection will likely provide a “bit of a boost” to membership levels, which currently sit at 2,000, Masse said.

The party is looking to grow that number using phone banks, emails, and other communications with people who showed support for the NDP during the election. “A lot of them were volunteers, a lot of them were sign-holders, a lot of them took some type of action in the last provincial election,” he said.

Dartmouth South MLA Claudia Chender, one of the party’s best-known caucus members, expressed interest in running for the party’s top job weeks before the leadership rules were announced Jan. 29. That early move might cause other aspirants, particularly those with lower profiles and smaller fundraising capacities, to think twice about joining the race.

Graham Steele, a former Nova Scotia NDP cabinet minister who literally wrote the book on post-war politics in the province, mentioned such a scenario on social media.

Commenting on non-competitive leadership races in the province, he said he was aware of only three cases since 1945. The most recent of those saw Jamie Baillie as the only candidate to come forward in 2010 for the leadership of Nova Scotia’s Progressive Conservatives.

“The Baillie example is the closest to the Chender situation,” Steele wrote on Twitter. “He entered the race early, and any other possible contenders concluded they couldn’t win, and stayed out.”

A non-competitive NDP leadership process would deprive the party of at least some of the excitement, media attention, and fundraising opportunities that come with such events. But Masse said there’s plenty of time for other prospective candidates to emerge.

“We don’t know what the picture will look like when we get to June 25th,” he said. “I think the membership has great wisdom. And I think any individual that is willing to see themselves reflected in that leadership role is going to be an exciting prospect for them.”

As for possibly being overshadowed by the Nova Scotia Liberals’ leadership race, which will overlap the NDP contest, Masse said he wasn’t concerned.

“I think it’s very clear that we’re excited about this prospect,” he said. “I’m not really going to comment on the Liberals. It doesn’t have anything to do with us.”