Not pleased with Ottawa's stance on search and rescue
Premier Kathy Dunderdale speaks to a Telegram reporter during an interview at Confederation Building Friday afternoon. She spoke on a variety of issues, including search and rescue and her dealings with Prime Minister Stephen Harper. — Photo by Keith Gosse/The Telegram
For Premier Kathy Dunderdale, there are things the federal government does that she likes, and things she doesn't like.
On Muskrat Falls, Prime Minister Stephen Harper is a valuable ally; on search and rescue, not so much.
In both cases, though, Dunderdale makes it clear that for her it's not about personal relationships - it's about getting things done.
"I'm not friends with the prime minister. Stephen Harper and I don't know each other that well," Dunderdale said.
"It's not about being buddies with the prime minister. It's about how do I ensure that Newfoundlanders and Labradorians get everything that they are entitled to from our federal government."
Dunderdale sat down with The Telegram in her office Friday morning, the day after the federal budget was tabled in Ottawa.
It's unclear how the $5 billion in budget cuts will affect the province exactly, but Dunderdale said she only expects a handful of job cuts.
"We've got about 600 federal jobs here in the province," she said.
"If the cuts are going to be about five or six per cent, then that'll translate into between 20 and 30 jobs for us."
As far as broader budget cuts go, Dunderdale said when the details come, she expects opposition politicians will try to use them against her.
Dunderdale endorsed Harper in the federal election last spring. Since then, provincial Liberal and New Democrat politicians have tried to blame her for federal decisions on everything from fisheries regulation to search and rescue funding.
"There has been a lot of politics played around search and rescue," she said.
"There's been a real stretch going on, particularly in the House of Assembly from the opposition, to try to lay all of this at our doorstep."
Dunderdale argues the only thing she can do is talk to the federal government and try to make convincing arguments.
"As premier, I have to advocate on behalf of the people of the province and I've said time and time again, in terms of the federal government, you only have two arrows in your quiver - it's the power of the ballot box and it is the power of persuasion," Dunderdale said.
"The power of persuasion is the only tool, in fact, that I have at this point in time. I have to use that as effectively as I can."
Sometimes persuasion is more effective than at other times, though. On the one hand, Dunderdale said she's happy to see the promise of a loan guarantee for the Muskrat Falls hydroelectric project, plus the resolution of the New Dawn land claim for the Labrador Innu.
Search and rescue is a different story.
"In terms of search and rescue? Not happy. Not happy at all," she said.
Over the past week, Liberals have argued in the House of Assembly that poor choices on the part of federal officials led to the death of 14-year-old Burton Winters, a Labrador youth who got lost on his snowmobile on the sea ice.
The mistakes are in addition to the controversy surrounding the Marine Rescue Sub-centre in St. John's - a search and rescue asset which will be closed this spring and have its operations consolidated with the centre in Halifax.
Liberal House leader Yvonne Jones has argued Dunderdale should be more vocal and join with opposition leaders to go to Ottawa to protest the federal government's search and rescue decisions.
"Does anybody think for one minute that that's changing his mind about anything?" the premier said.
"What is our chance of success of reversing a decision or preventing something else from happening by doing that?"
Dunderdale made it clear she doesn't have any time for the suggestions coming from her political opponents. She said she finds it worrying that they are "taken so seriously" and sometimes it seems they aren't held responsible for what they say.
"Sometimes it's a bit troubling to me that you can get up and say what you like about anything," she said.
When it comes to the federal budget cuts, she said she's sure the Liberals will try to use them as a political weapon.
But she's been clear in the lead-up to the federal budget that she won't brook any downloading of responsibilities onto the provinces. If that's what the Liberals or the New Democrats suggest, Dunderdale said, that amounts to the same sorts of disasterous policies they put in place when they were in government.
"You were spending money hand over fist, driving us down into the ground with debt. But what were you spending it on? What were you doing? Where were the good decisions?" she asked.
"They haven't changed their ways at all - you know, they keep talking spend, spend, spend."
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