Nfld. & Labrador

NDP caucus knew what they were signing, Kirby says

St. John's East MHA George Murphy said Wednesday that fellow NDP caucus member Dale Kirby pressured him to sign a letter to leader Lorraine Michael that she saw as a demand for her resignation.

Internal dispute continues to boil over in public

Dale Kirby on Crosstalk

9 years ago
Duration 53:12
NDP MHA Dale Kirby on Radio Noon's Crosstalk

St. John's East MHA George Murphy said Wednesday that fellow NDP caucus member Dale Kirby pressured him to sign a letter to leader Lorraine Michael that she saw as a demand for her resignation.

Murphy said he and MHA Gerry Rogers tried, but failed to prevent the letter — which was signed by the four members of caucus — from being sent to Michael.

Meanwhile, Kirby said he thought the caucus members understood what they were signing.

St. John's North MHA Dale Kirby says there have been problems in caucus with Lorraine Michael's leadership.

"As members of the house of assembly, we are expected to comprehend and digest complex pieces of legislation that affect the lives of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians, and to come up with something intelligent to say, either in defence or in criticism," Kirby said.

"And I believe that it's really important to point that out. That's what we do. And I believe all of the members of our caucus have been very skilled in doing that work. So I find it very difficult to believe that they didn't understand what was written there, because what was written there was what we had agreed to."

As for any change of heart among NDP MHAs, Kirby said that's for the public to assess.

"I think people have to draw their own conclusions on that. I can only speak for myself in terms of sticking by my actions, and I believe they're free to change their minds if that's what they want to do. That's their prerogative and they'll have to live with that," he said.

However, Kirby said Michael's leadership was a topic of discussion within caucus for some time, and he was surprised by what came out in the media.

"I was very disappointed [to hear that] because that's not my recollection of the way these events transpired. I think Mr. Murphy unfortunately has made it very difficult for all of us to put the genie back in the bottle," he said.

"I'm not going to disclose any specifics and I don't want to put words in people's mouths, but this certainly was a subject of some discussion."

Trust issues

Murphy told CBC he can no longer trust Kirby, and is not sure how the two will be able to work together.

NDP Leader Lorraine Michael has told supporters the party will pull through a dispute that has divided the caucus. (CBC)

"That's the mystery question," Murphy said.

"It's a very stark, staring lesson in, dare I say it, trust in politicians. And as far as I'm concerned there's an MHA out there that I simply can't trust now," Murphy told the St. John's Morning Show.

Murphy said he wanted a renewal process that would build the party over the two years leading to the next election, scheduled for October 2015.

He said he has no desire for Michael, who has been party leader since 2006, to leave her role.

"I love her to death," Murphy said during an often emotional interview.

Murphy made it clear that the idea to push Michael out came from Kirby.

But Kirby told CBC that Murphy's account was not true. He also denied threatening to leak the letter to David Cochrane, the CBC reporter who broke the story, if caucus members didn't sign it.

"That's absolute foolishness," said Kirby.

"If Mr. Murphy contends that I said that I would leak it to the media if they didn't sign it, then he ought to produce the evidence to that effect, because that's an absolute lie." 

Kirby added he doesn't believe Murphy's claim that he didn't understand what he was signing.

Emergency meeting was needed: MHA

Kirby said he was surprised Michael did not immediately call an emergency meeting with caucus when she received the letter on Sunday.

This circular firing squad out in the media is serving no one.- Dale Kirby

"This is a crisis situation. We ought to have met by now," he said.

Rogers, the NDP MHA for St. John's Centre, apologized Tuesday for how the issue was handled.

Kirby said the dispute, with various members of the caucus taking aim at each other, has become harmful.

"This circular firing squad out in the media is serving no one," he said.

MHA Chris Mitchelmore says he stands by his signature on the letter sent to Lorraine Michael. (CBC)

Mitchelmore stands by letter

On Wednesday, NDP MHA Christopher Mitchelmore, who represents the Northern Peninsula district of The Straits-White Bay North, added yet more fuel to the fiery debate. 

"I stand by my signature on [the] letter requesting the executive to convene a leadership convention in 2014," Mitchelmore tweeted. "This must be discussed with caucus."

The day before, however, Mitchelmore said the point of the letter to Michael was not to push her out the door, but to bring a new focus to the party's campaign plans. 

"I don't believe the intent was to look at having Lorraine Michael resign or step down, but to have dialogue," said Mitchelmore, who added a caucus meeting would help set a new path.

The letter, though, did not ask for a meeting, but instead asked for Michael to agree to a leadership convention, something Michael noted could only happen if she quit.

Rogers said she apologized to Michael for how the rest of the caucus handled the affair.

Kirby, however, maintains that a change at the top is necessary, and told CBC News that the caucus has had problems with Michael's style of leadership.

"While the party has grown to five MHAs, it has largely still functioned as if there is one," he said.

Executive member quits

Meanwhile, the fallout over the issue has expanded to the NDP's executive.

Leigh Borden has resigned her position as an at-large representative on the committee. Borden is married to Kirby.

Michael has told supporters the party will get through the fracas that appears to pit her against the rest of caucus.

She's written an open letter indicating she wants the MHAs to co-operate.

"This has been an unfortunate event, but one we are working through, and will continue to work through with your help and understanding," Michael wrote.

"Over the next few days, you will hear from caucus members. I will not speak for them, but I can assure that we have had good conversations, and that we are committed to moving forward.

"I believe the caucus is committed to continue building the party and our presence in the house of assembly. I hope that process will continue. We continue to be encouraged by public opinion polls, by rising numbers of new members and financial contributions, and the new district associations and other signs of growth around the province."


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