Tory MLA Karen Casey (right) has resigned from the Progressive Conservative party to join the Nova Scotia Liberal Caucus at the invitation of leader Stephen McNeil (left). (CBC)

Colchester North Progressive Conservative MLA Karen Casey has crossed the floor of the provincial legislature to join the Nova Scotia Liberals.

At a news conference Monday morning, Liberal Leader Stephen McNeil announced that Casey was joining the Liberal Caucus immediately.

"Karen brings a wealth of experience to our caucus," said McNeil. "Her dedication to her constituents is well known and her knowledge of education and health issues is vast. She will strengthen the Liberal caucus in its role as Official Opposition."

Casey was first elected in 2006, serving as Minister of Education and Minister of Health. Following the 2009 election, she served as interim leader of the Progressive Conservatives until August of 2010 when Jamie Baillie was acclaimed as party leader.

Casey said she made the decision to join the Liberal Party over the Christmas break, at McNeil's invitation. She said she first began considering the move after the Liberals tried to force emergency debate in the legislature over proposed cuts to education.

"This decision was not made lightly," said Casey. "It's about leadership. Stephen is a leader with integrity and committed to public service. We share same values."

"It is important to the people that I represent ... that I take their needs and concerns to Halifax ... and to the floor of the Legislature. I believe I can best do that by being a member of the Liberal Caucus."

"The Liberal caucus, under Stephen’s leadership, provides a real and constructive alternative to the current government," Casey said.

McNeil said Casey’s role in caucus has not yet been determined. Tuesday, she will attend the first Liberal Caucus meeting of the year.

Casey said she tendered her resignation to Tory leader Jamie Baillie just moments before McNeil issued a news release announcing her defection.

At a news conference, Baillie said Casey's defection caught him by surprise.

"Karen had not shared with me any specific areas of unhappiness during the time that we were in caucus together, or before. I only found out about it at five to 10 today, just a few minutes before you did," Baillie said.

"I'm disappointed, but no I'm not angry. People make decisions. I know where I'm going."

He earlier issued a statement on Casey's decision to join the Liberals. 

"I wish Karen well and respect her decision. This is a year of significant political change in Nova Scotia. Change is never easy. The PC Party is firmly committed to providing a true alternative to the NDP government in Nova Scotia," said Baillie.

"The PC Party and PC Caucus will continue to provide leadership and support to the people of Colchester North."


Casey said she realizes not everyone will be happy with her decision.

"I respect their opinion. I have represented the people of Colchester North to the best of my ability, and that’s not going to change."