With federal election looming, 2 candidates step forward for St. John's East NDP seat

·3 min read
Mary Shortall and Dr. Mansoor Pirzada are running as candidates for the NDP seat in St. John's East.  (CBC - image credit)
Mary Shortall and Dr. Mansoor Pirzada are running as candidates for the NDP seat in St. John's East. (CBC - image credit)

With MP Jack Harris retiring from politics when his current term ends, an opportunity has presented itself for a few federal New Democratic Party hopefuls in St. John's East.

Mary Shortall, president of the province's Federation of Labour, and Dr. Mansoor Pirzada, president of the Muslim Association of Newfoundland and Labrador, are both seeking the nomination in the riding as speculation swirls about a federal election in the near future.

The NDP has an equity rule in its constitution, meaning when a man retires from an NDP-held seat, his replacement must be a woman, a visible minority, a person with a disability or a member of the LGBTQ community.

Shortall told CBC News entering politics felt like a natural next step for her. She said her time as president of the Federation of Labour is winding down as the organization is creating space for new, diverse voices, something she said is an important move.

Shortall was a part of the Premier's Economic Recovery Team in the early stages, but stepped down citing a lack of transparency ahead of the release of its final report.

"I've always been involved in my community, not just in the labour movement, but I've been involved in my community my whole life," Shortall said on Thursday.

"For me, the NDP is the party that's devoted to the issues that I care about very deeply, and I know a lot of the members care about deeply."

Shortall said she has been involved with the NDP for decades and has been part of many elections before, but never as a candidate.

She said she believes her experience in the labour sector will be an asset, along with time spent with women's organizations and working on social justice issues.

Healthcare and changing demographic

Meanwhile, Pirzada told reporters on Thursday political barriers are coming down and the glass ceiling is being shattered.

He said he notices the struggles of seniors and single mothers in particular, who have challenges navigating the province's healthcare system.

But as a dermatologist who has been practicing in St. John's for the last 22 years, he said he has witnessed the cultural demographic in St. John's change.

"There was a time when there was no concept of having people of colour ... all these people were there, but the concept didn't exist," he said.

"In the past decade or so, we have seen and we've made strides, not because of anything, but because the struggle of people with colour to be recognized. I think the time has come."

Pirzada said Newfoundlanders and Labradorians have embraced the change, rallying around the Muslim community after a Quebec City mosque shooting in 2017, and said he's grateful to be part of that community.

He said he has spoken with Harris, who he said has been instrumental in helping people of colour in the province during his tenure in politics, and whoever wins the nomination — which could be decided over the next 10 days — will have large shoes to fill.

"If the people in the St. John's East riding believe that the NDP is their chosen party, they believe the NDP is doing what they want the NDP to do, it doesn't matter who's chosen," Pirzada said.

"If I am given the chance to serve you, I will always be accessible, I will always be available to you and I will not disappoint you."

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