March 10, 2017 5:16 pm

Michelle McHale launches Manitoba NDP leadership bid

Michelle McHale is launching her leadership bid for the NDP.

John Woods / The Canadian Press

WINNIPEG — The first candidate for the Manitoba NDP leadership says members have told her the party has strayed from its principles and needs to refocus.

Michelle McHale launched her leadership bid Friday by promising to unify a party that has been divided since 2014, when former premier Greg Selinger survived an internal party revolt.

READ MORE: Michelle McHale first contestant to launch NDP Manitoba bid

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McHale told about 50 supporters she has been listening to party members who want an end to the division and a renewed focus on social justice and other core principles.

McHale admits she has a steep learning curve, having never held elected office and only being a NDP member for about a year.

The NDP will select a new leader in September, and legislature member Wab Kinew has said he is putting together a team for a leadership bid.

McHale has not received any high-profile endorsements so far, and University of Manitoba political studies professor Royce Koop said her outsider status means she will have a very tough time winning.

“She has a tough, tough road ahead,” Koop said.

“The NDP, more than the Liberals or Conservatives, attach a great deal of importance to experience and service.”

McHale, a former mental health services co-ordinator, gained national prominence last year when she organized a Pride parade in Manitoba’s so-called Bible Belt. She also fought for same-sex education in schools in the area, and recently became a staff representative at the United Food and Commercial Workers union.

READ MORE: First ever Steinbach Pride Parade kicks off

“Over the past eight weeks, I’ve had the opportunity and privilege to speak with current and former NDP members about what they need from their next leader,” McHale told her supporters.

“So many shared angrily, and with profound sadness, that you can no longer see yourself and your own guiding principles reflected back to you in this party. And almost all of you have shared that the party that you once knew, loved and believed in is unrecognizable to you now.”

The NDP lost last April’s election after 17 years in power and has struggled to raise money and retain supporters.

READ MORE: Manitoba NDP collapse after nearly 17 years in power, Greg Selinger resigns as leader

The party also lost two of its 14 legislature seats in recent months. Kevin Chief resigned to take a job in the private sector, and Mohinder Saran was ousted from caucus after being accused of sexually harassing a subordinate — an accusation Saran has denied.

McHale said she can help unify the party as someone not involved in the turmoil of recent years.

She also said her recent arrival on the political scene is a hurdle that can be overcome.

“Maybe I don’t know what I don’t know about what’s in store. That’s entirely possible. But I have some really great people around me that are educating me as I go.”

© 2017 The Canadian Press

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