Dale Kirby and Christopher Mitchelmore join Liberals
Liberals on a roll as caucus jumps to 11 members
Former renegade New Democrats Dale Kirby and Christopher Mitchelmore found new homes in the Liberal ranks on Tuesday, deflecting criticism that they have walked away from their principles.
"My values are also your values," Kirby, an architect of the NDP's electoral breakthrough in the 2011 election, told a gathering of supporters at a St. John's church on Tuesday morning.
Among those in the crowd were former PC caucus chair Paul Lane, who applauded from the front row for Kirby — a symbol of how the political wheels have turned in the Liberals' favour in the last few weeks. Lane crossed the floor in January, just days before Kathy Dunderdale stepped down as premier.
Kirby said he is confident his constituents will support his move, and that the Liberal party's platform is in line with his views on housing, health and education.
"I don't really see it as a monumental shift. My views are very close to Mr. Ball's views," said Kirby as he stood next to Liberal Leader Dwight Ball.
Kirby and Mitchelmore quit the NDP caucus in late October amid a sharp dispute over Lorraine Michael's leadership. Both were careful at the time to note that they were retaining their party memberships, although they severed their ties in the last few weeks.
Several former NDP candidates and executive members attended Kirby's announcement.
Asked if he would try to move the NDP apparatus to the Liberal camp, Kirby replied, "I'd like to bring as many of them as possible." The comment drew a boisterous round of applause.
Both Kirby and Mitchelmore rejected suggestions that their motives were suspect.
"I do not see this as being opportunistic," said Mitchelmore, who like Kirby must win the Liberal nomination in their respective districts before the next provincial election campaign.
Ball touts 'open door policy'
Liberal Leader Dwight Ball welcomed the two new additions to his caucus, which now has 11 members.
Ball also said the floor-crossings indicate that the Liberal camp will welcome those who have found conflict in other parties.
"The Liberal party does have an open door policy, and we will not close that door on anyone who is seeking a nomination, looking to make a change for the better or questioning previous decisions," he said.
Ball said recent additions to the Liberal party from former opposition members don't diminish the fact that the Liberal party has specific values.
"We're not a zebra party, I can tell you that right now. What we have here are core values within the Liberal party and people that are attracted by that just like we've seen over this summer," Ball said.
Kirby and Mitchelmore are rookie MHAs who were part of an NDP surge in the 2011 election, giving the New Democrats the largest caucus — at five seats — it had ever had.
Kirby and Mitchelmore had initially retained their NDP membership, and had indicated that they wanted to be part of a leadership review facing Michael this May.
But both later resigned their party memberships.
Last week, Kirby said he would not be an Independent when he seeks re-election in his district.
"I'll be running for a political party — at least, I'll be seeking a nomination and if I secure a nomination, I'll be running with that political party," Kirby said.
Their move follows a number of turns of fortune for the once-beleaguered Liberals, who were barely able to hold on to Official Opposition status after the October 2011 election.
Last August, former PC cabinet minister Tom Osborne joined the Liberal caucus after sitting for 11 months as an Independent.
In November, the party took a former Tory seat in a byelection in Carbonear-Harbour Grace, with Carbonear Mayor Sam Slade coasting to victory.
In January, PC circles were rattled when Paul Lane, the Mount Pearl MHA who had been the Tories' caucus chair, crossed the floor.
The 11-member Liberal caucus's gains have come at the expense of the other parties. The PCs hold 34 seats, while the NDP have three.