Osborne quits Tories, cites Dunderdale leadership

Longtime Tory MHA Tom Osborne quit the Newfoundland and Labrador Progressive Conservative caucus Thursday, saying he's had trouble with the leadership of Premier Kathy Dunderdale.

"I'm going to sit as an independent," Osborne told a hastily-assembled news conference.

In his parting speech, Osborne said his ability to speak to the media has been "controlled," and he has been forced to support legislation he didn't agree with.

"I haven't been able to strongly support the leadership of our party for the past couple of years," said Osborne.

"That's no secret within the caucus. That's no secret within the party."

Osborne said the turning point for him came during debate over Bill 29, the legislation that limited the amount of public access to government information.

He said he voted for the bill even though he didn't support it.

“I did what I thought was in the best interest of my constituents and voted for that piece of legislation, even though deep down in my gut I didn’t believe in what I was doing," Osborne said.

Osborne says he's keeping the door open, and will entertain potential moves to either the Liberals or the NDP.

Osborne was in cabinet from 2003 to 2007, overseeing such portfolios as environment, health and justice, before being shuffled out after the 2007 general election.

He expressed regret over how things have gone during this term.

“I feel that I could have, and should have, performed better over the past year or so," Osborne said. "I could have and should have represented my constituents better over the past year or so ...

"But not being able to support the leadership, and having that feeling when you go to work, makes it more difficult.”

Osborne's departure from the Tory caucus is the first floor-crossing at the legislature in years.

In 2005, PC MHA Fabian Manning was booted from caucus, and briefly sat as an independent before quitting provincial politics for a federal run.

And more than a decade ago, Ross Wiseman left the Liberals to join the Tories. Wiseman is now Speaker of the House of Assembly.

Osborne's former colleagues were quick to condemn his move.

"I do take grave exception to some of the statements that he made today," Mount Pearl North MHA Steve Kent told CBC News.

"For instance, to suggest that he hasn't supported our leader since the inception is a little hard for me to accept, it's a little hard for me to believe. We're talking about someone who ran for our party, for our premier, less than 12 months ago."

Others chimed in on Twitter.

"When you remove the weakest link from a chain," Terra Nova MHA Sandy Collins tweeted, "[t]he chain that remains is stronger than before."

Added Mount Pearl South MHA Paul Lane: "If he doesn't want to be a contributing member of the team then he should leave."

Osborne's move adds a level of intrigue to the provincial political scene.

The new standings in the legislature will be 36 Tories, six Liberals, five New Democrats and one independent.

If Osborne opted to join the NDP, that would result in a tie in seat count, and create a dilemma for the Speaker as to which party should form the Official Opposition.

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