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Newfoundland and Labrador NDP votes to keep leader after caucus revolt

Newfoundland and Labrador NDP Leader Lorraine Michael speaks to reporters at the party convention in St. John's on Saturday, May 17, 2014. The party voted 75 per cent to keep Michael on as leader after a caucus revolt last fall. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sue Bailey

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Newfoundland and Labrador NDP Leader Lorraine Michael speaks to reporters at the party convention in St. John's on Saturday, May 17, 2014. The party voted 75 per cent to keep Michael on as leader after a caucus revolt last fall. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sue Bailey

ST. JOHN'S, N.L. - It's time to move on seven months after a messy internal rift decimated party support and raised questions of competence, says newly affirmed Newfoundland and Labrador NDP Leader Lorraine Michael.

The party voted 75 per cent in her favour on Saturday in a leadership review forced by intense public infighting that split the small third-party caucus last fall.

"It would be wrong for any of us to say mistakes weren't made," Michael said just after the vote. "I think that's good for us to acknowledge. But I think we now move forward and we learn from those mistakes."

Michael needed the support of 50 per cent plus one of 125 voting members to avoid a leadership convention.

She got 94 votes or 75 per cent.

The party moved up its convention scheduled for next October after the crisis over Michael's leadership style and ability to recruit new candidates.

Several party organizers and supporters have since left the NDP fold.

Michael said in a speech to convention delegates that a big part of the problem was a failure to communicate and recognize building tensions.

"I want so much to continue to work with you and with the caucus to build a party that's strong enough, confident enough to have hard debates about our future.

"I want to lead a party that doesn't shy away from controversy and hard choices, but shares a vision and values that hold us together even when we disagree — and that wants to work together in doing that."

The NDP won historic gains in the 2011 provincial election and was riding high in public opinion polls before the damaging episode. It has since badly trailed in voter surveys and two recent byelections.

Two of five members who quit the legislative caucus, Chris Mitchelmore representing The Straits-White Bay North and Dale Kirby of St. John's North, now sit as Opposition Liberals.

The next election must be called 12 months after Frank Coleman is confirmed as the new Tory leader in July and sworn in as premier.

Gerry Rogers was one of the four NDP caucus members who surprised Michael last fall with a letter calling for a leadership convention — in essence, wanting her to resign. It suggested doubts about her ability to recruit and retain candidates ahead of the next election.

Michael, a former nun and social activist who has led the party since 2006, said she felt betrayed by the move.

It wasn't long before the growing family feud became public when the letter was leaked to the media.

"I wish we had done things differently," Rogers, representing St. John's Centre, said Saturday. "But I stuck by our need to look at leadership review and party renewal."

Party president Kathleen Connors said Saturday's strong show of support for Michael will help the NDP regroup.

"It has now been resolved. The membership has spoken. We are going to move forward as a party."

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