Now-Independent MHA Perry Trimper says a recent Liberal delegation trip to Labrador with Premier Andrew Furey that he wasn't even told about was the tipping point for his decision to leave the Liberal caucus.
Trimper told CBC News on Monday that he's been left out of the loop for months when it comes to discussing issues facing Labrador.
"To me the straw that broke the back and the most recent example was last week when I learned from the public that the premier was coming [to my district]," Trimper said Monday.
"I was quite surprised by that, because typically when a member of cabinet or the executive, especially the premier, is touring a district you're advised well in advance and able to provide input."
However, a statement from the office of the premier on Monday said, "Our office was in touch with the Member for Lake Melville prior to the Premier's visit to his district."
Trimper announced Tuesday on Facebook that he would be leaving the Liberal caucus, while also announcing he would be seeking re-election as an Independent. He had previously said he would not be running again.
It's been quite remarkable and, frankly, a bit of a nightmare to find myself on the outside of a cause that I believe strongly in. - Perry Trimper
Those announcements came on the heels of controversy surrounding comments made on CBC's Labrador Morning, when he described the homeless population in Happy Valley-Goose Bay as "choosing" a risky lifestyle. Furey had said he was concerned about those comments, and a short time later, Trimper apologized for poor word choice.
Trimper said he feels he can speak more freely now as an Independent.
"I felt that I needed to get myself out of the political arena — even though I'm in politics as a politician — but it's the party politics that were starting to really push me to the side and keep me in a place where my voice, and therefore the voice of the district, was not being heard," Trimper told CBC's Here & Now.
"So yeah, I withdrew my nomination at that time, but I was thinking that I wasn't sure I was done yet, and I wanted to keep going, and I decided to make this move as of last Tuesday."
Trimper also said he's felt a pattern of exclusion over the last few months from discussions relating to Labrador, specifically pointing to Cartwright-L'Anse au Clair MHA Lisa Dempster, who holds the portfolio for Labrador affairs and Indigenous affairs and reconciliation.
"I've been finding myself increasingly isolated from any type of input, consultation, influence on any of the important decisions that are facing Lake Melville and Labrador in general," Trimper said.
"So I brought this to the premier's office and his attention, so I was quite surprised to hear that, wow, they're coming to town, I'm not being included, I'm not being involved.
"And it's not just about me — it's not just about Perry Trimper, how he feels. It really is starting to become now about the district, and I am the representative at the provincial level for the district of Lake Melville, but if I'm not at the meetings in my district, well, then my district isn't at the meetings."
Trimper said he still believes Furey is the right person to lead the province, and harbours no hard feelings toward the Liberal caucus.
"I really had wanted to finish my mandate as a Liberal MHA, but to me, to have yet another delegation come to town, led by the premier, not being involved, not being invited, not being included, it just says, well, obviously I don't have a voice and therefore this district doesn't have a voice. So [it's] a very tough situation," he said.
"I bear no animosity to the premier or to my colleagues; they're under a lot of pressure. We all are, as politicians, but … last Tuesday was a very difficult day for me."
'I just find it quite sinister'
In addition to difficulties with his former caucus colleagues, Trimper said he's been on the receiving end of personal attacks from the Progressive Conservative candidate from the 2019 election, Shannon Tobin, who Trimper says has been "undermining" him on social media.
"The accusation is now that I'm somehow against the Innu, that I'm somehow a racist," Trimper said, pointing to what he said is a 34-year career of working closely with Indigenous peoples in Labrador on creating opportunities on a path of reconciliation.
"To suddenly find myself thrust out through political attacks, it's been quite remarkable and, frankly, a bit of a nightmare to find myself on the outside of a cause that I believe strongly in and have been working so hard on. And despite it all, and whatever happens going forward, I will remain committed to."
Trimper said "character assassination" is not something he wants to take part in, adding that he believes it creates division rather than co-operation.
"I think a lot of politicians go through this type of situation where there's always somebody lurking in the background, and if the points and the arguments are made in a philosophical, fiscal, legislative perspective, then that's all fair game," Trimper said.
"But to have people who are trying to essentially have me removed from this role through character assassinations, accusations and so on that have been occurring while I'm trying to help resolve very serious issues, I just find it quite sinister."
Tobin said Trimper has no one but himself to blame.
"It's sad than an elected member of the House of Assembly, who has been caught on tape … multiple times with comments that were deeply hurtful to Indigenous groups in this province, the fact that he's blaming anyone other than himself I just really find sad," he told CBC News.
"I have no interest in being dragged into the drama that's been playing out between Perry Trimper and the Liberal Party of Newfoundland and Labrador. I'm running to represent the people of Lake Melville and to address the issues that are important to them."
In the last month, Trimper said, the discussion hasn't been focused on issues facing Lake Melville, and for him that's troubling.
"There's no question this has been a difficult time for me, but there frankly are many victims, many casualties. I think most importantly we've got very important issues — and by the way it's not just reconciliation with the Indigenous peoples of this province; there are other very serious issues facing Newfoundland and Labrador," Trimper said.
"But I'm sitting here in Lake Melville and there's a lot of catch-up that needs to be done, from everything from health care to infrastructure to communications, and the fact that neither I, the premier, my colleagues formerly with the Liberal party, could proceed to address them, those are the real victims. It's those that need our attention."
Trimper said he wants to thank the elders and community members he's worked with over the decades who have reached out to offer him support, and he hopes to continue to serve Lake Melville.
"We have to ensure that as we move forward that we don't alienate anyone in this district. This really needs to be a coming together, the discussion needs to be about how can we overcome some of these tough issues," he said.
"I don't want to see one group pitched against another. I don't want to see anyone become the victim of political undermining."