Former Progressive Conservative Leader Olive Crane has been kicked out of caucus and will now sit as an independent MLA in the P.E.I. legislature.
PC Leader Steven Myers made the decision Friday afternoon after a day of closed-door meetings.
He informed Crane of his decision by telephone. She was coaching a youth soccer game at the time. She says she was blindsided and was given no explanation.
“He said he ‘hated to have to do this on the phone but you’re going to be kicked out of caucus.’ I found that really shocking,” Crane said in an interview with The Guardian.
“I asked why, and he said, ‘It’s just not working with you here.’ And that was basically it. That was at 10 (minutes) to four.”
It was a dramatic twist for the party that has been mired in turmoil and internal power struggles for the last year.
Just over 24-hours previous to this, another member of the PC caucus, Tignish-Palmer Road MLA Hal Perry, dropped the bombshell he was crossing the floor to join the governing Liberal caucus.
He said he felt muzzled by the party and had been considering leaving for the past nine months.
Crane spoke to The Guardian later in the day Thursday saying she believes Perry’s defection was the result of a group of party insiders who tried to oust her as leader last year, resulting in a year of internal struggles that have aired publicly and embarrassingly for the party.
Myers says Crane’s interview with The Guardian Thursday broke a promise that was made during a caucus meeting earlier in the day that no MLAs would speak with media following a brief news conference held to offer reaction to Perry’s departure.
“We had agreed as a caucus about how we would deal with Hal’s defection,” Myers said.
“To have somebody go off on their own and do a private interview… we can’t have stuff like that as a party that is trying to rebuild.”
Myers said this has been an ongoing concern with Crane and felt this was the last straw.
“This isn’t something that’s new. And we hear Hal (Perry) saying yesterday he was working against us for nine months. This has been my life for nine months. We need to rebuild as a party, we need to move on, we need to put things behind us that are in the past and that’s what I’m trying to do.”
But Crane lays the blame for her removal from caucus squarely on the party’s ‘backroom,’ which she believes pressured Myers to get rid of her.
“It’s very clear that there’s a small group that has wanted me away from the party and out of the party for a long time and they have never stopped,” Crane said.
“No backroom is ever going to tell me what to do. They pulled the plug because I was standing up for something that I’m passionate about, the district and the people of P.E.I. Too bad.”
Last November, while Crane was still party leader, a group of party insiders tried to force a leadership review. It culminated in a dramatic meeting of the membership that saw Crane narrowly emerge victorious.
After several weeks of fallout, Crane finally quit as leader. This led to confusion over who was in charge when Perry briefly held the title of Opposition Leader while at the same time Myers was Interim party leader.
Since then, the party has plunged in the polls, now sitting behind the NDP for the first time in the province’s history.
Myers takes strong issue with any suggestion he is being controlled by anyone in the party or that the backroom is pulling strings.
“It’s unfortunate that we’re still talking about backroom boys… I had discussions with people in the party today and asked their opinions on it, and I made my decision,” he said.
“I take responsibility for the decision.”
Myers says he wants to pick up the pieces and move on from the turmoil that has dogged the party for the last year. He hopes moving forward on planning for a leadership convention can do that.
Crane says she has no regrets and will continue her work in the legislature, now as an independent PC MLA.
“And don’t think I’m going to give the premier or the Liberal government a free ride,” she added.
Stephen Myers, interim leader of the P.E.I. Progressive Conservatives, listens as former leader Oiive Crane answers reporters questions about the defection of Hal Perry to the Liberals.
©Guardian photo by Brian McInnis