Paul Lane, the MHA for Mount Pearl South, announced Monday morning he was crossing the floor to join the Liberals, saying he could no longer support Kathy Dunderdale's Progressive Conservative government.
"The message I have been getting for the last number of months is that while the vast majority of my constituents support me and the work I am doing, they no longer have confidence in our government," Lane told a news conference at a Mount Pearl restaurant.
But Dunderdale said Lane's decision to leave the Tories for the Liberals came as a surprise.
"Mr. Lane didn't express any discontent with leadership or the direction of the party before his announcement today, including when he accepted a promotion on Oct. 9," she said in a statement emailed to CBC.
"Mr. Lane had ample opportunity to voice his concerns surrounding leadership and direction of the party to me. He did not."
Dunderdale left for a vacation on Friday. But CBC has learned she's cutting her trip short to return to the province and deal with the fallout from Lane's departure. A spokesperson said the premier would comment further upon her return this week.
Lane, flanked by Liberal Leader Dwight Ball, told reporters his decision was influenced strongly by dissatisfaction he heard in his district, and beyond.
"For the last number of months it seems there's hardly been a day that has gone by that a constituent never suggested to me that I ought to consider making a move. Today I am making that move, and will be sitting as a member of the Liberal caucus," said Lane.
A member of the Tory party for the past 18 years, Lane said it wasn't an easy decision. But he said a number of issues in recent months forced his hand, not the least of which was Dunderdale's leadership.
He said she's failed to practise what she preaches.
"I've heard our premier say we need to remember who hired us, and why. These are wise words, but words alone do not go far enough. They must be backed up by actions," he said.
"I say to the premier that while her intentions may be honourable, I believe that our government has lost its way, and has indeed forgotten to listen to the people of Newfoundland and Labrador. I believe that our government has become very complacent and has indeed lost touch."
Blackouts 'straw that broke camel's back'
Lane, who had been a fervent and very public cheerleader for the government, said he expressed dissatisfaction with Dunderdale's leadership on several recent occasions, most recently over the rolling power blackouts, saying her lack of empathy was "the straw that broke the camel's back."
"While I was out and about in my district visiting warming centres, checking on seniors, regularly conversing with our mayor, speaking to people and answering questions as best I could, and updating people via social media, the premier was, once again, nowhere to be found," he said.
"To make matters worse, two or three days later, when the premier finally decided to speak to the people, instead of demonstrating empathy for all those negatively impacted by the blackouts, the focus of the news conference centred around whether or not the situation, by definition, was a crisis.
Well, I'd like to say that while there were many people for whom the blackouts were an inconvenience ... for many people this was indeed a crisis."
Lane said failed opportunities for the premier to show leadership had become a pattern.
"Whether it be the issue on search and rescue, the forest fire in Labrador this past summer, or the flooding on the Burin Peninsula. One recurring question has been asked by the people of Newfoundland and Labrador: "Where is the premier?' "
Lane also cited the controversial Bill 29 privacy legislation as a reason for his disgruntlement and decision to jump ship, saying its passage was a "mistake." He said he brought his concerns to the cabinet table several times, only to be told by the premier that it would not be repealed.
"As a member elected by the people, and responsible for listening to the people I serve, this was not the response I wanted to hear then, and this is not the response I want to hear now. As I stated to my colleagues at the time, sometimes when you are in a leadership role you need to have the courage to admit when a mistake has been made."
Talks started a week ago: Ball
Ball, meanwhile, said the process of Lane's move started a week ago.
"The door was opened with Paul last Monday when we had our first chat," Ball told reporters during Lane's news conference.
He said Lane brought forward issues and concerns that resonated with the Liberal platform.
"The fit has to be right," said Ball, adding there were several meetings on Saturday and Sunday that led to Lane's final decision. "We decided that this morning would be the appropriate time to make the move and welcome Paul as a member of the Official Opposition."
Lane, well-known as an enthusiastic backbencher in the Tory government, has been the chair of the Progressive Conservative caucus since 2012.
Tourism Minister Terry French said Monday that Lane's decision took him by surprise, particularly since Lane had been a prominent supporter of both Dunderdale and the PCs.
"He never mentioned to me that he's considering leaving. Quite the contrary, actually," French told reporters after unveiling the province's latest tourism ad.
"He's always been one of the defenders of the faith, if you will, so that was a surprise, a real surprise for me."
Embroiled in controversy
A former deputy mayor and councillor in Mount Pearl, Lane entered provincial politics in 2011.
He was embroiled in a controversy last winter when a series of reports in the St. John's Telegram showed that he had tried to round up support among Tory partisans to sway the outcome of online political polls. The episode gave him the Twittersphere nickname of "Poll Lane."
Since last fall's cabinet shuffle, Lane has been the parliamentary secretary to the minister of innovation, business and rural development.
His decision to join the Liberals increases the Official Opposition caucus to nine members.
Lane also becomes the second person from the Tory caucus to find his way to the Liberal benches. Tom Osborne, a former cabinet minister and the long-time representative for St. John's South, joined the Liberals in August after sitting as an Independent for 11 months.
Osborne also cited Dunderdale's leadership as a primary reason for his decision to leave the caucus.
Meanwhile, some Tory supporters believe Lane's departure could spur a mass exodus of other party members.
Soon after Lane made it official Monday morning, former cabinet minister Paul Oram told CBC News that "the writing's on the wall" for Kathy Dunderdale, adding he cannot see how Dunderdale can recover from a series of problems.
"The reality is that the polls are never getting better, and now you have members of the caucus that are looking at moving, and certainly those that have moved out now, there's just no way that she can stay around, based on what's happening now."