'I love a challenge': New P.E.I. NDP leader ready to get to work

·3 min read
Federal NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh, left, greets newly elected P.E.I. NDP Leader Michelle Neill after she was endorsed as the party's leader Saturday in Charlottetown.  (Wayne Thibodeau/CBC - image credit)
Federal NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh, left, greets newly elected P.E.I. NDP Leader Michelle Neill after she was endorsed as the party's leader Saturday in Charlottetown. (Wayne Thibodeau/CBC - image credit)

The new leader of the P.E.I. NDP says she's not daunted by the fact her party has only elected a candidate once in the province's history.

Michelle Neill was confirmed as the party's new leader during a convention in Charlottetown on Saturday. She was the only candidate to come forward for the job.

"I love a challenge, I really do," Neill said in an interview with CBC News after being unanimously endorsed as the party's new leader.

"As my father used to say to me, 'don't complain, just get your butt in there and make a good change.' So that's what I plan to do.

"I'm going to surround myself with people who are good, honest, integrity people who are going to work with me and help to educate others about our policies and make them aware of the different things that the NDP can do for them."

Neill is a federal public servant and union leader from Oyster Bed Bridge. She ran for the federal NDP in the riding of Malpeque in last year's federal election.

She lost that election to Liberal Heath MacDonald. But this is her first time running in provincial politics.

She replaces Joe Byrne, who stepped down in Sept 2020.

'Already starting with a good base'

Herb Dickieson is a former party leader, and the only NDP candidate ever elected to the province's legislature— that was back in 1996.

Wayne Thibodeau/CBC
Wayne Thibodeau/CBC

He believes Neill will connect with Islanders and will have electoral success.

"She's already starting with a good base to begin with and now what we have to do is extend that base and go much further. A lot of it will be through personal contacts, meetings across the Island."

Besides volunteering with many organizations in her community of Oyster Bed Bridge, Neill has held leadership roles at the Public Service Alliance of Canada, a union representing federal sector workers. She worked with the Canada Revenue Agency for almost 30 years.

'There's some strategy behind that'

Neill said she hasn't decided what district she'll run in during the next election. She lives in District 15, Brackley-Hunter River. That district is currently held by Premier Dennis King.

Wayne Thibodeau/CBC
Wayne Thibodeau/CBC

"I'm going to be working with my team just to ensure where would be the best place for me to run, because obviously there's some strategy behind that as well," said Neill.

"So I want to ensure that we're in a place where we can put forward our best foot to ensure we can get people elected."

Federal NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh greeted the new leader after she was elected and held a meet and greet with party members after the leadership convention.

During an interview on CBC News: Compass on Friday, Singh said the party needs to show Islanders how voting for the New Democrats benefits them.

He also touted Neill's experience in the public sector.

'People start to know who I am'

"Having worked at the federal level in the non-partisan side, [she will] bring that experience to the fore as the leader in P.E.I. She will be a strong voice, and I look forward to working with her," he said.

Wayne Thibodeau/CBC
Wayne Thibodeau/CBC

Neill has about 18 months to get ready for the next provincial election, which is scheduled for October 2023.

She plans to be at the P.E.I. legislature later this week. But since she doesn't have a seat in the legislature, she'll be sitting in the public gallery.

"I do plan to be in the public gallery there," she said. "I want to ensure that people start to know who I am and what I look like cause I want to be a familiar face in the future."

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