Liberal Leader Dwight Ball repeatedly said that his party has an “open door policy” and it was on full display Tuesday as Ball welcomed two MHAs into the Liberal fold.
Dale Kirby and Christopher Mitchelmore have been sitting as independents in the House of Assembly ever since they were involved in orchestrating a messy caucus revolt last October in the NDP.
St. John’s North MHA Dale Kirby looks on as Liberal Leader Dwight Ball speaks at an event Tuesday morning. Kirby announced that he’s joining the Liberal party after several months sitting as an independent. — Photo by James McLeod/The Telegram
But Ball said he believes that both of them can find a home within the Liberal party.
“Both Christopher and Dale have respect for the values of the Liberal party: treating our communities and our residents fairly; caring about health, education and protection of all the people in all parts of our province; being an accountable party that will act in the best interests of our people,” Ball said.
Of the 11 members of the Liberal caucus, four of them are floor-crossers — Tom Osborne and Paul Lane were both originally elected as Tories, and Kirby and Mitchelmore ran under the NDP banner.
But even though he seems willing to take politicians regardless of their political stripe, Ball said that the party still has a set of core principles.
“We’re not a zebra party, I can tell you that right now,” he said. “People are coming to the Liberal party, supporting the Liberal values as a matter of choice. It is still the Liberal Party of Newfoundland and Labrador.”
Ball has adamantly said that Kirby, Mitchelmore, Lane and every other aspiring Liberal candidate has to face an open nomination challenge before they run in the next election. Any of them could have to fight for their right to run for the Liberals.
The fact that Kirby and Lane, especially, are now part of the same political party could be awkward. The two men have traded verbal shots back and forth across the legislature in a way that sometimes seemed to get personal and heated.
Lane once described the New Democrats —including Kirby— by saying “there are no intelligent life forms” within the NDP.
On Tuesday, though, Lane shrugged that off by saying that it was all just part of the game.
“I’m looking forward to working with both Chris and Dale. I can tell you that some of the sparring that you see back and forth is simply just that — never personal with me. It’s never been personal with those guys either,” he said.
For Kirby’s part, he said that he could work with Lane.
“Paul and I are certainly not sworn enemies,” he said.
Perhaps the most interesting thing about Tuesday’s announcement was the assortment of people in the crowd.
Several New Democrat candidates from the 2011 election were sitting there supporting Kirby.
“I’m here to support my friend Dale,” said Chris Picard, who rand for the NDP in St. John’s West back in 2011.
Geoff Gallant was also in the audience; he was party vice-president until last fall, when he quit in the wake of the caucus revolt.
Gallant also turned up a couple of weeks earlier at the Liberal announcement when Lane announced he was leaving the Tories and joining the Liberals.
At the time, Gallant claimed he wasn’t there for political reasons — just for the quesadillas at Smitty’s restaurant in Mount Pearl — but there were no quesadillas to be had at the United Church when Kirby made his announcement.
Gallant acknowledged after it was over that he’s taking a look at some different political options, even if he hasn’t formally quit the NDP yet.
“Ever since I left the vice-presidency of the NDP, one of the things I’ve really been enjoying is really looking at everything with a clear head and a clean slate and kind of a non-partisan eye,” he said. “I’m really listening to what Mr. Ball has been preaching; it’s really kind of an open, inclusive party.”
Mitchelmore held a similar event in his district on the Northern Peninsula, and spoke to reporters by speakerphone in St. John’s.
He said he’s been spending a lot of time talking with people in his district, and he’s convinced that the Liberals are the right fit for him.
“I worked very hard in my constituency. I’ve been on the ground talking with people, dealing with issues, as an independent, working very hard,” he said.