MHA Tom Osborne ended nearly a year in limbo Thursday by announcing that he’s joining the Liberal party.
In front of a crowd of about 100 supporters, family members, Liberal politicians and staffers, Osborne declared that the Liberal party was the best place for him.
“The party that I’m joining, I’m joining for the rest of my life,” he said. “I believe that philosophically, ideologically and politically I’m a good fit for the Liberal party.”
Osborne has been a Progressive Conservative stalwart for decades, and an elected MHA since 1996. But last September, he left the PC party caucus, saying that he could no longer support the leadership of Premier Kathy Dunderdale.
The Liberals are enjoying an upswing in support and interest as five candidates campaign across the province for the leadership of the party.
On Thursday, Osborne didn’t endorse anybody, but he did insert himself into the race, saying after considering the lay of the land, he could happily serve under the leadership of any of the “three frontrunners” in the race.
“If either of the three frontrunners win the leadership of the Liberal party, they are somebody that I can work with,” he said. “I think we have five very good individuals running for the Liberal party. The three frontrunners are, I think, three fine individuals.”
Later, he said he believes Dwight Ball, Cathy Bennett and Paul Antle are the frontrunners in the race.
Ball was in the Shea Heights community centre for Osborne’s announcement, and said the move is in line with the momentum that he’s developed in the past year and a half as interim leader.
“It supports what I’ve been saying for quite some time, that we’ve been bringing people back to the Liberal party. We’re bringing new people to the Liberal party,” Ball said.
Antle said having an MHA from St. John’s will give the party a foothold to expand support in the area. Until Osborne joined the party, all six Liberal MHAs were clustered along the west coast of the island and in Labrador.
“It gives us a presence in St. John’s, a base for us to grow from,” Antle said.
“He’s an honourable gentleman. He’s the longest-sitting member in the House of Assembly. He has a great rapport with his constituents. He has so much to offer.”
Interim opposition leader Eddie Joyce said the party has been talking with Osborne for months, but things weren’t nailed down until this week.
“There was always a lot of discussion back and forth over this. We had some strong indications Tuesday and Wednesday,” he said. “There’s been negotiation going on and chatting for the past year, and then it got more serious in the last month or two months.”
There had been rumblings and rumours that Osborne could join the NDP, and New Democrat Leader Lorraine Michael said they’d been talking.
But she said they wouldn’t cut any deals, and they wouldn’t offer protection to Osborne if the
St. John’s South NDP district association tried to nominate another candidate in the district for the 2015 election.
“I did indicate to Mr. Osborne that there (were) no concessions to be made — that he would come in on an equal footing with everybody, and find his place within our caucus and within our party,” she said. “He would have to come in on his own merit.”
Premier Kathy Dunderdale issued a written statement, wishing Osborne well.
“Mr. Osborne has made his decision. I wish him well,” Dunderdale said. “Our government’s focus remains the same — doing what’s in the best interests of the people of the province and ensuring Newfoundland and Labrador’s fiscal future continues to be stable and sustainable.”
Osborne’s family has been heavily involved with the PC party for a long time; both his uncle, Bob Ridgley, and his monther, Sheila Osborne, represented the Tories in the House of Assembly.
Sheila Osborne was at Tom’s announcement Thursday morning, wearing a red shirt — although she said she wears red all the time, and wasn’t trying to send any political signals.
Nonetheless, she said she’ll be voting Liberal from now on.
“Of course, I’ll be supporting the LIberal party because my son is a member, and because we were disenchanted with the leadership of the Progressive Conservative party, which was why he moved,” she said.