In this reflective feature, one of this province’s most influential women talks proudest political moments and new opportunities
Gerry Rogers surprised many in February when she announced that she wouldn’t be seeking re-election and was stepping down as leader of the provincial New Democratic Party. However, her departure from politics doesn’t mean people won’t hear the popular politicians’ name again in future.
All about the timing
For Rogers, who turns 63 in August, stepping aside is all about timing.
“I’ve done this for eight years and I did not think I could do it for another four… I’ve had breast cancer, and other health issues related to that, and there are some other things I want to do in my life,” she said during a recent phone interview.
An international award-winning filmmaker, Rogers 2000 film My Left Breast, featured her and her partner, Peg Norman, documenting Rogers’ cancer journey. A proud feminist activist and LGBTQ+ advocate, Rogers and Norman married in 2017.
Rogers was first elected to the House of Assembly as the Member for St. John’s Centre in October 2011 becoming the province’s first openly gay politician. She took the reigns as provincial NDP leader in 2018. When asked about her biggest political accomplishment, Rogers mentions the work accomplished by the All-Party Committee on Mental Health and Addictions. (It was Rogers who put forward a private members motion calling for such a committee to be struck).
Committee members worked together for the betterment of the people, she said. Rogers would like to see similar efforts unfold more often.
“There is better way of doing politics that is more collaborative… the people of Newfoundland and Labrador want us to work together. They do not like this adversarial way of doing politics,” she said.
Whether wearing her hat as an LGBTQ+ advocate, lobbying for more affordable housing, a higher minimum wage, help for domestic abuse victims, or for other issues such as the reinstatement of the adult dental plan, Rogers’ strong, unwavering voice has been heard both near and far.
She was recently invited to an international conference in Colombia, South America on LGBTQ+ parliamentarians and was asked to provide consultation to the Columbian government about advancing the rights of the LGBTQ+ community in that country.
It’s not unusual to hear Rogers speaking up for those who cannot speak for themselves. The majority of people in the province’s prison system have mental health and/or addiction issues, she said.
“A number of mental health advocates have said that our prisons have become our mental asylums,” she said.
Rogers feels people who are waiting for a hearing should remain under supervision in the community rather than held on remand in prison. “We don’t need to build a bigger prison… we need to get people out of prison,” she said.
Rogers said when she entered politics she ran as a new democrat because the party reflected her own values including a deep concern for those living in her district and throughout the province.
As noted on its website, the party works for fairness, justice, and a society where nobody is left behind. “People in the province are so used to voting liberal or conservative but we were offering a different voice, a different way of doing politics… The New Democratic Party really reflects the culture of who we are as Newfoundlanders and Labradorians,” she said.
Improving people’s lives
In a press release dated Feb. 12, 2019 announcing Roger’s intention to step down, party president Lynn Moore extended gratitude to Rogers on behalf of the NDP.
“Gerry’s work as an MHA and as Leader of the New Democratic Party has been instrumental in making lasting changes in our province. Her initiatives in mental health and addictions, including getting all three political parties to not only sit at the same table, but to hammer out a deal, is a testament to her ability to get things done and to improve the lives of every day citizens of our province,” Moore said.
Moore noted that Rogers would continue to work to make change in the province and that the party would continue to look to her for guidance. “Her activist roots and her love of this place and its people will see her continue to work towards a better tomorrow,” Moore said.
In a Facebook post on April 18, Rogers thanked the party, her family and others who have supported her over the years.
Her post drew reaction from hundreds of people including a comment from TD Edison who wrote about how Rogers had done so much and helped so many during her time in politics.
“You’ve opened eyes and changed the dialogue on critical issues. Without you, Lorraine (Michael) and your team, we’d be still trying to plant the seeds rather than trying to foster growth,” Edison wrote.
Leslie MacLeod’s comments spoke of Rogers’ commitment to her constituents and province. “You were all in – you were all heart – you are wise and true – you are gentle and strong – you were magnificent in action – you are a wonder to behold –thank you for giving the province eight years of your life, and Peg’s,” MacLeod wrote.
Rogers admits she’s not one for sitting back and watching the world go by.
While not yet ready to talk about where her future might take her, one thing is certain – her passion for this province and compassion for its people – will not waver.
“I’m not quite sure yet what I’m going to do. I may have a few more films left in me. I love our Newfoundland and Labrador. I love our people. And I want to continue to be a voice for change.”