By Jamie Bennett
Special to the Star
CORNER BROOK Longtime PC MHA Tom Osborne may have shocked many political observers in the province with his decision to leave the party, but Finance Minister Tom Marshall admits the news was no surprise to him.
Citing a lack of faith in Premier Kathy Dunderdale’s leadership and frustration at being forced to support government policies which were often at odds with his own beliefs, the St. John’s South member will now sit as an independent in the House of Assembly after stepping down from the tories Thursday.
A former cabinet minister under former premier Danny Williams, Osborne had been relegated to the role of backbencher under Dunderdale. Marshall said while he has known for some time that Osborne was increasingly unhappy, he does not agree that Dunderdale’s leadership should be in question.
“I have respect for Tom Osborne, he was a good MHA and when he was in cabinet, I thought he was a good minister,” Marshall said Friday from St. John’s. “I think what he’s done is misguided and I think he’s wrong on leadership. I fully support Premier Dunderdale and the caucus and cabinet does as well.”
As someone who’s supported Dunderdale since she replaced Williams in 2010, the member from Humber East said Dunderdale remains the right leader for the province less than a year after leading the party to a 37-seat showing in the provincial election, regardless of opposition on the province’s open line shows and in social media.
“The people decide and the people are always right,” he said. “But there are many people in this province who refuse to accept the will of the people and after the campaign they try to keep it going. Kathy Dunderdale has been given an overwhelming mandate to govern and she’s entitled to govern.”
Despite Osborne’s claim that he was prevented from speaking his mind in caucus, Marshall said like Williams, Dunderdale values debate and dissenting views since it helps her make informed decisions on issues in question.
Given the nature of a parliamentary democracy in which a government falls if it is defeated in house on an issue, Marshall said while debate is welcome, its important for members to come to a consensus in order for government to work.
“You can’t do things alone, that’s not the way the system works,” he said. “You have to be able to pass legislation in the house. The opposition can say anything and can take on anybody’s point of view ... because oppositions don’t fall. But governments have to stay together in order to stay in office. Once we come to a consensus, you either support it or you leave. Those are your two options.”
Liberal Bay of Islands MHA Eddie Joyce said its no secret Osborne was disgruntled, particularly with the controversial Bill 29 which will limit the public’s access to government records.
Joyce said Osborne had to be aware of the pending backlash and put the concerns of his constituents first, something he should be commended for.
“There’s only so much a man like Tom Osborne can take of this kind of stuff,” Joyce said. “He’s not going to sit back and I guess he finally said enough is enough. Once you reach a point where you’re hurting your constituents, you’ve got to take a stand if you truly believe in what you’re doing.”
He said Osborne would be a solid addition to the Liberals and admitted he was disappointed to hear the personal attacks aimed at Osborne from his former colleagues.
“To me, it’s a shame that you would attack someone so viciously and personally,” he said. “You’ve got Steve Kent criticizing someone like Tom Osborne, who’s been loyal to the party for 40 years, and here’s a guy who’s been jumping on every bandwagon trying to get a vote.”
Meanwhile, Andrew Parsons, Liberal MHA for Burgeo-La Poile, said Osborne leaving the government is a sign of an ever-growing rift within the party, one which is echoed by what he believes is wider dissent from the general public.
Should Osborne eventually join the Liberals, Parsons said the party would benefit in a number of ways.
“We don’t have that St. John’s presence, so that would obviously be a huge bonus for us,” Parsons said. “But more importantly, the quality of Tom’s work speaks for itself. You don’t get elected that long without being very good at your job.”
Local NDP MHA from The Straights-White Bay North Christopher Mitchelmore was unavailable for comment as of press time.