Tuesday September 02, 2014




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Newfoundland NDP leader won't step aside as two members who challenged her quit

ST. JOHN'S, N.L. - Newfoundland and Labrador's NDP leader defended her record Tuesday and vowed to stay on as head of the party after losing two caucus members in a very public fight over her leadership.

"I do believe that we as a caucus of three will move forward together," Lorraine Michael said at the legislature in St. John's, N.L.

Michael said she will meet with the NDP executive to discuss her call for a leadership review vote at the next party convention planned for October 2014.

She said she has no regrets about her own handling of the messy affair and is putting her fate in the hands of the party membership.

Such a measure falls short of a leadership convention, called for in an emailed letter signed by all four of her third-party caucus teammates on Oct. 20.

A convention would have required Michael to resign, allowing a fresh contest for the top job. A review is a chance for party members to affirm or reject her leadership heading into the next provincial election in October 2015.

The caucus letter was leaked to the media, setting off a bizarre chain of reaction that saw two members, Gerry Rogers and George Murphy, express regret as Michael said she'd been betrayed and blindsided.

Michael's two other teammates did not back down or accept the leadership review compromise.

Dale Kirby, who represents St. John's North, announced Tuesday he's leaving the NDP caucus and will sit as an Independent in the provincial house of assembly.

Moments later, Christopher Mitchelmore tweeted he was leaving to become an Independent member as well.

Kirby and Mitchelmore both pushed for a leadership convention to help renew the party and attract new members.

"I don't want to break confidence any more than it already has been," Kirby told a news conference at the legislature. "Recent events have created a situation whereby I cannot with good conscience continue to remain in the NDP caucus."

Kirby was adamant, however, that all four caucus members supported the letter as written and that other party members agreed. But he said he regrets not picking up the phone and calling Michael the day it was sent.

Kirby said the leadership debate was never intended to play out in public.

Mitchelmore, who represents the riding of the Straits-White Bay North, said he came to his decision after much consideration and reflection.

"I cannot support the public handling of recent events that transpired to a clear question regarding the Newfoundland and Labrador New Democratic Party leadership," he said in a statement.

"This matter will continue to have significant long-term consequences for advancing the party. These events now create an undesirable work environment that would detract from being able to best serve my constituents."

Michael, 70, is a former Roman Catholic nun and social activist who was elected NDP leader in 2006. She was the sole New Democrat in a Tory-dominated legislature after the 2007 election until the party broke through with five seats in 2011, compared to six seats for the Liberals and 37 for the Progressive Conservatives.

Premier Kathy Dunderdale's government has been battered in recent surveys of voter approval while a resurgent Liberal party is set to choose a new leader next month.

The Progressive Conservatives now hold 35 of 48 seats in the house of assembly. The Opposition Liberals have seven seats and the NDP will have three members. There is one vacancy.

The NDP prior to the caucus blow-up had appeared well-positioned to build on recent gains in the polls, including strong approval numbers for Michael as leader.



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