PC Party members rally around their embattled leader in Gander
At the end of Premier Kathy Dunderdale’s sprawling 45-minute speech to PC Party delegates Saturday morning in Gander, Agnes Richard had heard enough.
Premier Kathy Dunderdale addresses Progressive Conservative Party delegates Saturday morning at the Hotel Gander. Dunderdale talked at length about Muskrat Falls and Bill 29, two issues where she said people are getting misinformation from opposition politicians and the media.
— Photo by James McLeod/The Telegram
Under party rules, Dunderdale knew she was safe from a leadership review 30 days before the convention; anybody wanting to challenge her job at the helm needed to give advance notice in writing to the party office.
But Richard charged up to a microphone, and said she didn’t care what the rules had to say. She wanted to speak up anyway.
“I move that we endorse the leadership of Kathy Dunderdale.” Richard said, before she was drowned out in cheers, applause and shouts of “hear, hear” from the other delegates.
The PCs may be third place in the polls, and nearly four out of five Newfoundlanders and Labradorians may think that Dunderdale is not the best choice for premier of the province, but at the PC Party annual convention, there was no hint of wavering support.
The most common sentiment expressed again and again was, “If only they knew her like we know her, then everything would be different.”
Dunderdale gave a keynote speech at the Friday night convention banquet, speaking from prepared notes and alternating between talking about the roaring economy in the province, and blasting the opposition parties — the Liberals especially — for their past failures in government and their more recent unrealistic demands of the government as Official Opposition.
“Every new demand they make, every new dollar they promise to spend is a dollar they would tear from the hands of hard-working Newfoundlanders and Labradorians,” Dunderdale said.
But during her “Leader’s Report” speech on Saturday morning, Dunderdale spent most of her time talking “about the facts, not the myths” some of the government’s perceived failures: Muskrat Falls, and the Bill 29 amendments to access to information.
On both files, Dunderdale said, the opposition parties and the media have been painting an unfair, skewed view of things.
“If you don’t come to forums like this, you would never know all the great things that are happening in the province,” Dunderdale said. “If we had to rely on our traditional sources of information, if you had to listen to the radio or to other media all day long, you’d think the arse is gone completely out of it, and that is not so. It is not so, and it is very difficult to get our own message out.”
On Muskrat Falls, Dunderdale said, “there is more information available on this project to the people of the province than ever before in our history on any project.”
On Bill 29, Dunderdale once again offered her defence of the controversial law, saying that personal privacy, cabinet secrecy and commercially sensitive information must be kept confidential.
Despite this, she said the government is sending out more information than ever before.
“There is way more information going out now than prior to Bill 29,” Dunderdale said. “Significantly more requests coming in than before; significantly more information going out.”
Critics have pointed out that the amendments to the access to information law made broad swaths of government documents off-limits to public disclosure, and made it possible withhold documents that had previously been accessible.
Every Liberal leadership candidate has promised to repeal Bill 29, and Dunderdale said that’s because they simply don’t know what they’re talking about.
“Now, I’m going to tell you, that’s pretty scary,” Dunderdale said. “B’ys, we could be in a lot of trouble if they ever get their way.”
Earlier this month, the party started distributing the first volume of “The Blue Pages,” a newsletter which gives the PC Party perspective on current issues. It will be distributed regularly to members across the province.
Party president Cillian Sheehan said the backbone of the party is solid, with hundreds of thousands of dollars in the bank and active district associations right across the province.
Sheehan said the party plans on using that structure a lot more.
“We have to kind of utilize our district associations a little bit more in terms of getting our message out to them so they can disseminate it around the communities — you know, in coffee shops, around council chambers, volunteer groups,” he said. “That’s a way of getting our message out that we probably haven’t been using as much as we should have in the past.”