Kicking puppies and other political strategies

Russell Wangersky
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It’s an interesting play: faced with the departure of a longtime caucus colleague, Premier Kathy Dunderdale and her me-too caucus have decided to drag former Tory MHA Tom Osborne through the mud. He’s bored. He’s lazy. He’s disengaged.

It’s been a bit of a full-court press — and while the governing Tories may feel justified in the piling-on, they might stop and consider things a little more carefully. Why?

Because Osborne’s got more than a little cred and plenty of ammunition.

More on that in a minute. But first, you’ve got to stop and look at where Osborne fit with the Tories before his Thursday announcement.

He was, until a blowup with Danny Williams, a high-profile cabinet minister running one of the largest departments in government as minister of health. He was moved out of the cabinet and, to his credit (at least as far as the party is concerned), didn’t talk about what led to the departure. There are clear indications that the row was over the way the Tory establishment wanted to handle the optics of the breast cancer testing scandal — perhaps even who they wanted to take the political fall. But Osborne wasn’t talking and hasn’t pointed fingers. Often considered a possibility for reappointment — and with a broader skill set than several who sit in cabinet now — Osborne didn’t just sit on his hands.

Moving in another direction, he build a modest reputation as deputy speaker — and in that role, was the logical replacement when House Speaker Roger Fitzgerald decided to retire.

He even put his name forward for the Speaker’s job, only to withdraw his name from consideration at the last minute. He hasn’t said whether he jumped or was pushed.

Word was that the Tories wanted a soft, full-salary landing for Ross Wiseman, who was coming out of cabinet. Even though Osborne had more qualifications for the job, the establishment had spoken. (To add to the irony, there was nowhere near the same amount of rancour and character-assassination when Wiseman himself crossed the floor, going from the Liberals to the Tories in 2001).

Osborne didn’t speak publicly about that, either. The good Tory soldier kept his own counsel and kept his complaints in-house.

There are particular concerns, of course, in Osborne’s case: he was uncomfortable with Dunderdale’s leadership, and she knew it — not exactly a recipe for upward mobility. Not only that, Osborne’s seat could rightly be looked at as a spot the NDP could target for potential growth. In the last provincial election, Osborne won his seat by just under 1,000 votes (2,967 for Osborne, 1,994 for the NDP’s Keith Dunne and a measly 163 for the Liberal candidate). Compare that to the 2007 election, when Osborne took 79 per cent of the vote with 3,887 votes, compared to the NDP’s 571, and you can see a real change. As well as his problems with Dunderdale, there may be some good old-fashioned political pragmatism involved.

But there are clear problems with the way Kathy Dunderdale and her caucus have decided to turn the defection into a full-court press against Osborne. To them, it may seem like their regular happy sport of vigorously kicking helpless puppies tied up in a sack. That is, after all, the tried-and-true method they have used against anyone who sits in opposition — or anyone who speaks out.

They might think more carefully about that decision.

Right now, Osborne is taking the high road — it’s not hard to imagine that he will continue to do that, especially if you’ve ever stopped to talk to the soft-spoken politician as he stood in a grocery store, buying cartloads of groceries for a constituency barbecue with his own money.

But the Tories have to keep in mind this is no ordinary puppy. The longest-serving Tory MHA, Osborne knows where things are buried.

If he chooses to join his former comrades down in the gutter, it could get very messy indeed. This puppy’s got teeth.

Russell Wangersky is The Telegram’s

editorial page editor. He can be reached by email at

Organizations: NDP

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Recent comments

  • saelcove
    September 19, 2012 - 10:22

    Williams knew what he was doing making everyone else look bad

  • Doug Smith
    September 19, 2012 - 10:08

    Picky and Fred, so sorry to say but both of your comments about Ms. Dunderdale not being educated are wrong and show a deficit in your own educations. One of the meanings of “educated” according to Dictionary .com is “to qualify by instruction or training for a particular calling.” Ms. Dunderdale’s calling was that of politician. She started by first being an ordinary elected MHA, then became a minister in cabinet, this training and experience put her in a position to reach the pinnacle of her profession by becoming premier. Thus Ms. Dunderdale meets the requirements of the term “educated”. So Picky, just as you can’t become a hockey player by attending hockey games, so to, you can’t become a cabinet minister or premier without first undergoing training in being a successful elected politician as Ms. Dunderdale has done. Fred, one of the reasons why a person becomes educated is to do well in life. One , but not the only one, of the distinguishing marks of how much a person has succeeded in life is how well they have done financially. There can be no question that Ms. Dunderdale has done very well financially. You even admitted she will have a “gold plated” pension. Remember, Fred, you and I will help pay for her wonderful pension whether we like it or not. Picky, to say a person, even though they graduated from high school, is not formally educated unless they have gone to a post-secondary institution is a form of snobbery. I hope this clears things up for you two. Doug Smith,GFW

    • Picky
      September 19, 2012 - 14:23

      Doug, do yourself a favour and stop being so gullible.

  • observer
    September 18, 2012 - 19:20

    Mr. Wangersky, thank you for speaking out on this topic. I have been dismayed and disheartened to see the "leaders" of our province behaving like a bunch of high school bullies. Shame on them for conducting themselves in such a poor manner. How can they speak out against anti-bullying and wear pink t-shirts, when they themselves are bullies?

  • Pierre Neary
    September 18, 2012 - 16:23

    Definitely some smart advice for the Premier.

  • Doug Smith
    September 18, 2012 - 13:33

    Kim and Joy, I must take issue with your calling Ms. Dunderdale, “uneducated”. That is just plain wrong. Your other terms may very well apply to her, but Ms. Dunderdale is not uneducated. She is one of only 10 premiers in the country and is bringing in over $150,000 a year and when she retires will have one of the best pensions in the province. Clearly not uneducated. Doug Smith, GFW

    • Picky
      September 18, 2012 - 14:24

      I think Kim and Joy were referring to Premier Dunderdale's lack of formal education; her profile on the government website states she "attended MUN"; no mention of graduating from any recognized post-secondary institution. I recently "attended" a rock concert, but it doesn't qualify me as a musician; I've "attended" hockey games, but I can't skate a lick. But, being uneducated, doesn't necessarily make Kathy stupid, it's just her actions, reactions, pig-headedness and stubbornness drives home the perception; that's all.

    • Fred
      September 19, 2012 - 00:12

      How is being an elected politician and gaining that gold plated pension the mark of someone "educated"? Sorry, Doug, that sound rather uneducated of you.

  • Scott Free
    September 18, 2012 - 13:21

    This is just the beginning of Tory backbenchers bailing ship. And, naturally, the Secret Society known as the Tory Party of NL will respond with a counterspin that the departing member was disengaged, meaning the springs broke on his bobblehead. For minister Burke to call Osbourne "deadwood" is more than just a bit offensive, its downright unparliamentary. But, then again, she is an expert on being deadwood; her track record speaks for itself. This response is straight out of the Tory handbook; in the chapter on departed members, instructions are clear to malign, degrade and belittle those who move on and leave the goodship Tory. The Tories have a long history of back-stabbing those who were once their own; Verge, Marshall, Manning and now Osbourne, but to name a few. And, its commical to hear Kent and others respond for they themselves are the real deadwood and as mere coattail politicians, they'll be ousted next election. Sometimes Steve, its best to just nod and leave doubt rather than speak and give proof.

  • Barry
    September 18, 2012 - 11:15

    Not only does that puppy have teeth, he also has a boat load of supporters with some pretty big chompers too !!!!!

  • Kim and Joy
    September 18, 2012 - 10:37

    Synonyms are different words that have the same meaning. For example, Dunderdale can be substituted by several words: uneducated, corrupt, inadequate, boorish, childlike...

    • MUN Poli Sci
      September 18, 2012 - 12:42

      Ladies, you left out the word Tobin, Your synonyms would apply to him as well. The point is the word politician is too often replaced by "scumbag".

  • Sue Kelland-Dyer
    September 18, 2012 - 10:16

    And that is why Mr. Wangersky will continue to receive awards and recognition for his writing. That as they say was spot on.

  • Too Funny
    September 18, 2012 - 08:44

    "The longest-serving Tory MHA, Osborne knows where things are buried." True. But that goes both ways. They know where his things are buried as well. And the longer you've been around, the more things you have buried.

    • John
      September 18, 2012 - 08:55

      Wow! Mr. Wangersky has finally found a good Tory. Too bad he didn't recognize him until he crossed the floor. And now, years after he was booted from Cabinet, we find out that it was over a dispute over health care. We seem to have a lot of "selective conscience" going on.