IN THE NEWS ~ Newfoundland fertile ground for NDP

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   ST. JOHN'S, N.L. - The orange wave washed into St. John's earlier this month, bringing 101 NDP MPs on a fall retreat and federal caucus meeting. In its

wake were the national news media bringing the news from the far east of a party that is preparing to take on Stephen Harper and the Conservatives when the House of Commons opens tomorrow.

   With only two MPs from Newfoundland and Labrador and dozens from other provinces it might seem an unlikely and out of the way place but, besides St.

John's being a great place to visit, there is an undercurrent that tells the story.

   With the NDP having conquered Quebec, for now at least, the seven Newfoundland and Labrador seats are seen as attainable. At first wash it might

seem ridiculous and they have never held many seats here, but the NDP has always been there, just under the surface, in both federal and provincial politics.

   In the traditionally conservative urban ridings of St. John's and the strong labour riding of western Labrador they have held seats historically and

consistently enjoy strong support.

   Currently, Jack Harris holds St. John's East and Ryan Cleary holds St. John's South-Mount Pearl federally. In the last provincial election the NDP came

within one seat of forming the official Opposition to the once all-powerful Progressive Conservative Party, whose polling numbers are sinking fast since

uber-popular former leader Danny Williams jumped ship nearly two years ago.

   With the provincial Liberals in disarray and the NDP buoyed by a jump in popularity, they sound like an opposition party as they get out in front of the

Liberals and ruling PCs on many issues publicly. The NDP has a long institutional memory here with longtime members still around as younger members

join and take over the helm.

   MP and defence critic Jack Harris has been a member of the provincial legislature, a party leader and twice an MP in his 30-year career as a

politician representing various rejigged St. John's ridings.

   The NDP organization in this province is not divided between federal and provincial parties like the Liberals and Conservatives. They are one team that

works together on every election its members are contesting, be it federal, provincial or now it seems, municipal. NDP leader Thomas Mulcair and other

high-profile members have been a regular sight in Newfoundland since the federal election. Mulcair even delved into St. John's municipal politics by endorsing

city councillor Sheilagh O'Leary in the next mayoral election.

   Mulcair says the NDP is resurgent in Atlantic Canada because NDP values line up with Atlantic Canada's values on social issues and there is a clearly

defined line between NDP and Conservatives. He says Conservative MP Peter Penashue's Labrador seat is on the NDP hunting list, as Penashue won with a slim

majority and his performance has been very weak as a cabinet minister in Stephen Harper's government.

   Caucus chairman Peter Julian said members will fan out across the province to attend events in every riding to reach out to people in rural areas and

entice them to move away from their historic Liberal-Tory voting habits. With Newfoundland's strong labour movement, you'd think it would be an easy catch for

the party.

   Do the meagre seven seats of Newfoundland and Labrador mean anything in the big ocean of federal politics?

   Not normally, but in the turbulent political environment of recent years with minority governments and tenuous majorities, every seat counts and the NDP

is going fishing in every pond.

   Greg Locke is The Chronicle Herald's correspondent in Newfoundland and Labrador. ILLUS: NDP Leader Tom Mulcair delivers the opening remarks at the

party's annual summer caucus retreat in St. John's, N.L., earlier this month.

(Paul Daly / The Canadian Press)