Kirby, Mitchelmore quit NDP caucus after leadership row
Departing MHAs still consider themselves New Democrats
Dale Kirby and Christopher Mitchelmore resigned Tuesday as members of Newfoundland and Labrador's NDP caucus, in the wake of a public meltdown over Lorraine Michael's leadership of the party.
Kirby, who represents the district of St. John's North, made the announcement at Confederation Building.
Mitchelmore followed suit minutes later in a written statement.
"This has been a long time coming," said Kirby, who has been active for many years in the party and was an architect of a game-changing campaign in 2011 that saw the NDP take five seats, the most the party has ever had.
Kirby said while he will no longer sit in caucus, he is not resigning his membership in the NDP.
He said, though, it is “untenable for me to continue” as a member of the caucus under Michael’s leadership, which came under sharp question last week when the remaining members of caucus called for a leadership convention in 2014. Michael interpreted that as a call for her resignation.
"Confidence has been broken a lot now, and I'm interested in moving forward."
Mitchelmore told CBC News he also considers himself a New Democrat, and that he has no regrets for calling for a leadership convention, even though Michael interpreted the action as a betrayal.
"I continue to stand by that [as being in] the best interest of the party, when it comes to growth and renewal," he said in an interview.
"That did not mean that Lorraine Michael could not be a candidate in the leadership convention that was asked for by all members of caucus."
Mitchelmore said that the decision to not call a convention for next year, but instead to have a leadership review, will have long-term, harmful effects for the NDP.
Caucus will keep going: Michael
Speaking with reporters soon after the resignations, Michael said the caucus will keep going, although she said she was saddened to see Kirby and Mitchelmore leave.
Michael, meanwhile, insists that she has firm support from both the executive and rank-and-file members.
"I have been encouraged over the past week — it's been more than a week now — by the tremendous response I've been getting from party members with regard to my leadership," she said.
The resignations are a significant reversal of fortune for the NDP, which came close to forming the Official Opposition against the Liberals in the 2011 election.
The Liberals now, though, hold seven seats in the legislature, having recently picked up the support of former Tory cabinet minister Tom Osborne, who sat as an Independent since quitting the PC caucus last year.
While Kirby said he did not regret his position on Michael's leadership, he did wish he could change how Michael was informed of what the caucus had decided, specifically their decision to notify her in a signed letter that was scanned and sent by email.
"I wish that I [had] picked up the telephone on the Sunday that the letter was sent, and spoke to the leader about these issues and tried to help to contain it in some way," Kirby said.
"I feel that not doing that was unhelpful."
Kirby and Mitchelmore stuck to their guns last week in a call for a leadership convention, which Michael, who has led the party since 2006, interpreted as a call for her resignation.
The public infighting boiled over for several days, with St. John's East MHA George Murphy saying he blamed Kirby for putting pressure on him for the call, and that he could not trust Kirby again.
Murphy said he regretted taking part in the letter that was sent to Michael.
St. John's Centre MHA Gerry Rogers apologized for the manner in which Michael learned of the caucus' feelings.
Following a caucus meeting on Saturday, Michael agreed instead to a leadership review, akin to a process used in the federal wing and in every other provincial branch of the NDP.
Until Tuesday, Kirby had not commented for five days about problems within the caucus. Last Friday, though, he tweeted a quote from Agnes MacPhail, the first woman elected to the House of Commons: "Never apologize. Never explain. Just get the thing done, and let them howl."