Mary Shortall has been picked to replace Jack Harris as the New Democratic Party candidate for the riding of St. John’s East in the upcoming federal election.
Shortall won the NDP nomination Monday night over Mansoor Pirzada, president of the Muslim Association of Newfoundland and Labrador.
Shortall, the outgoing president of the Newfoundland and Labrador Federation of Labor, has been a fixture in the regional labor movement for several years. She served on Premier Andrew Furey’s economic recovery team before resigning in January, citing a lack of transparency.
“The issues that the NDP believes very strongly in are the issues that I believed in my whole life,” said Shortall, who has been involved in the NDP for decades, but never as a candidate.
When she heard that Harris would be stepping down just as her term as president was coming to an end, she felt the time was right.
Her nomination comes as the NDP is emphasizing diversity for its slate in the federal election, which could be called as soon as the coming week. When a straight white man retires from an NDP-held seat, the party mandates that he must be replaced by a female, a visible minority, a person with a disability or a member of the LGBTQ+ community.
Shortall said she was pleased that the nomination was contested because it permitted her to get a sense of the issues facing people who live in the riding of St. John’s East.
“There’s a big, diverse community. It’s a great, thriving community,” she said.
Shortfall said that economic recovery, climate change, healthcare and long-term care are some of the main issues she has been hearing thus far.
A looming election
Harris first won St. John’s East in 1987, before being defeated in 1988. Following a long run in provincial politics, Harris ran successfully for the federal seat in 2008 and held the seat till 2015, when he was defeated by Liberal Nick Whelan in an upset. Two years ago, Harris won the seat back.
“People like Jack because he’s Jack, obviously, but also I think the people who vote for Jack also understand that he is an NDP MP and that he does represent what the NDP represents,” Shortall said.
Shortall will be running against Liberal Joanne Thompson and Conservative Glenn Etchegary.
Shortall said that her experiences as part of past campaigns has prepared her for the challenge of the next election. She said her involvement in social justice issues made federal politics a “natural progression.”
“There’s so many things that the federal government needs to take a lead role in. Those are issues that are really important to building a strong economy, but they’re really important to creating a more equal and fair society.”
She said the role of the NDP in enacting CERB and the federal wage subsidy shows the significance of the opposition parties in government.
“It’s really important to hold government accountable,” she said. “Democracy works best when there are strong voices in government, strong voices in opposition.”