Gambits and gambles

Pam Frampton
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“Sometimes there is a greater lack of communication in facile talking than in silence.”

— Faith Baldwin (1893-1978), American author


Premier Kathy Dunderdale was about halfway through her 40-minute speech to the St. John’s Board of Trade on Monday when she suddenly deviated from her written script.

In a moment oddly reminiscent of Peter Penashue’s “I will tell you a secret” revelation in April, the premier divulged that she had been pressured to make concessions on the fishery before Ottawa would finalize the promised loan guarantee for Muskrat Falls, but she adamantly refused.

“You know what I told him to do with the loan guarantee?” Dunderdale asked, the saucy answer to that question clearly implied.

The premier’s seemingly spontaneous confession in front of the business crowd was an obvious political strategy.

Like Penashue’s boast that he put Newfoundland projects on hold in order to extract provincial funds for Labrador projects, Dunderdale’s comments were meant to be divisive, putting distance between her own beleaguered government and the scandal-ridden Harper administration.

She’s morphed into the quintessential fighting Newfoundlander, ready to wage war with mean old Uncle Ottawa, consequences be damned.

It’s the very strategy Danny Williams often employed to great effect, despite Dunderdale’s suggestion in her speech that she’s chosen a more diplomatic approach.

“The easy thing to do would have been to walk away from the loan guarantee, in terms of political capital, and stand up for Newfoundland and Labrador and hammer my fist on the table, and that would have done me a lot of good and I’m smart enough politically to know that — I’ve been at this for awhile. But it wouldn’t have done the people of the province any good.”

Nor does it sound like smart politics. In fact, it would not have been easier to walk away. Imagine the icy reception the premier would’ve gotten in this province if she hadn’t been able to secure the loan guarantee — a guarantee she assured us repeatedly would mitigate the financial risks of the project to taxpayers.

Perhaps a better diplomatic and political strategy would have been to stand tough and refuse to make concessions — which she says she did — but then not brag about it afterwards. You can be an effective leader without sounding like you’re trying too hard to convince everyone that you are.

Now, I’m all for the release of information and it’s nice to know what goes on behind the scenes, but so far we’ve only had a one-sided account.

Dunderdale is taking a gamble by publicly berating the feds and, as the Canadian Press reported the day after the speech, her comments set Ottawa abuzz. A source inside the federal Conservative party and a political science prof both said her words could come back to bite her, calling the political tactic “a risky proposition.”

It makes you wonder just whose advice Dunderdale was heeding or whether she took that plunge on her own.

It’s easy to play to the friendly hometown crowd, and to whip up support for the underdog, but it doesn’t sound very stateswoman-like to gloat about having “smacked the phone up” in the ear of the PM’s chief of staff.

I’m not suggesting for a moment that the province should have kowtowed to Ottawa. The loan guarantee was a promise made and the premier made them keep it. Bravo.

But I’m not sure it’s a good idea to negotiate successfully with the federal government and then boast about what a hero you were, no matter how badly you need the brownie points. The premier is clearly trying to bolster her image, but at what cost to the rest of us?

The only thing consistent about the premier’s political strategy since she took office has been its lack of consistency.

In January 2012, Dunderdale closed the provincial government’s office in Ottawa, saying the relationship with the federal government was so cordial, there was no need to have anyone there on the ground. This was despite the fact that only six months earlier she had vowed to keep it open, saying it “serves a great purpose.”

She also stressed the delicate nature of the federal/provincial relationship.

“The thing is, at this point in time, we’re being heard,” she told The Telegram in June 2011. “They’re listening to what we’re saying, whether or not they’re going to agree with us. But while they’re listening to me, I have to make the most of that opportunity.”

So, what happens if the federal government doesn’t like what it’s hearing and stops listening? We have no Conservative MP from this province in Parliament, which the premier herself admitted would strain the relationship.

That’s why the political equivalent of kissing-and-telling may not have been a good move. Loose lips sink ships, and all that. We’ll have to wait and see.

Meanwhile, the premier acknowledged she’s not telling us everything.

“Some day I look forward to being able to tell the whole story,” she said coyly, during her speech.

Well go ahead, Madam Premier. If you’re feeling in an expansive mood, we’re all ears.

I just hope your latest stratagem doesn’t mean that now it’s only the home crowd who’s willing to listen.


Pam Frampton is a columnist and

The Telegram’s associate managing editor. She can be reached by email at

Twitter: pam_frampton

Organizations: Board of Trade, Canadian Press, The Telegram

Geographic location: Ottawa, Newfoundland and Labrador

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Recent comments

    June 02, 2013 - 15:44

    Once again I cringed as I watched Ms. Dunderdale being interviewed on Friday on the status of the CETA negotiations in Brussels. She repeated her belief that this province was being left out of the loop and that our interests at the table were being jeopardized. In days previous, she revealed that the feds had tried to link the Muskrat guarantee to concessions on minimum processing. Despite bragging that she had slammed the door on that gambit, she went on to say that minimum processing might be negotiated away in any event. Then she made a comment that I found very disconcerting - even alarming. She revealed that she had raised SAR improvements in this province as a quid pro quo for giving up minimum processing. .... No doubt the lavish oak panelled digs of the PMO are a sombre place these days. Ninety thousand dollars worth of Wright-guard couldn't eradicate the stench of Duffster that hangs over Parliament Hill. And so it must have come as a welcome chuckle amidst the senate seige when Dunderdale offered to abandon her perch in exchance for something that was ours to begin with - a lifeline for fishermen that was taken away by Harper in a manner seemingly calculated to make Dunderdale look like a fool for having embraced him publicly on the campaign trail. Harper - sleaze bag that he might be - could be forgiven for patting himself on the back for having had the foresight to gut SAR in this province so as to have something to give back if the need ever presented itself. When you think about it, and when you think about Dunderdale, it really is like taking candy from a baby. .... No doubt Frampton's column was written well before this latest bizarre development. Still, it astonishes me that the media and the opposition have yet to pick up on the implications of accepting, let alone offering, such an odious accommodation. Does principle count for nothing anymore?

    • Pam Frampton
      June 03, 2013 - 14:24

      Yes, my column was written before the latest revelation.

  • Jay
    June 02, 2013 - 14:25

    While I agree that this wasn't necessarily a wise move on Dunderdale's part, calling it a Danny Williams strategy suggests a poor knowledge of the history of this province's premiers, considering that pretty well all of them since Joey Smallwood have used it. For some examples, you might want to read up on Joey's battles with Diefenbaker, Peckford and Trudeau, and Wells on Meech Lake. All of them winning the premier votes, but costing the province in the long term.

  • hammond anson
    June 02, 2013 - 05:57

    don't believe the bs, her handlers are looking for an angle in which blunderdale is seen as a champion of her people and not a Ottawa stooge for harper. nice try, but some of us took communications in school and understand how they are trying to repaint her optics in a much more favorable way.

  • BillyBuy
    June 02, 2013 - 03:00

    Does the author of the story also remember that "Newfie" still has the right to drop out of Confederation, at any time...???? How's that for an Ace in the hole.....???

  • Nite Owl
    June 01, 2013 - 16:25

    Why is it wrong to brag about standing up to Harper but de rigueur for Harper to brag about standing up to Liberals and the NDP? Is it only right when Harper does it?

  • Dave-O
    June 01, 2013 - 12:30

    What is currently holding office in Ottawa is a group of thugs and the reason this caused a buzz across Canada is because what she mention was the cold hard facts. We must all stand together against Canada's greatest internal threat the Harper Gangsters.

  • Eli
    June 01, 2013 - 12:21

    Akin to Williams' "We got it!", "We got it!" His words were barely out of his mouth when the reverberation came back from Ottawa, "you'll pay". But I feel this is all bluster by the premier, something's gone afoul with that excessively flaunted "guaranteed" loan.

  • Corporate Psycho
    June 01, 2013 - 10:26

    The Premier's actions were certainly shades of Penashue. Smacks of desperation.

  • purley
    June 01, 2013 - 09:44

    Every province in canada has an identity, a flavor, that endears them to the entire nation. What would Newfoundland be without it's huge ability: .. to make fun of itself... and others...... stand up for it's own right to interpret how fiscal responsibility and brinkmanship is described ... to "talk plain" to friend and foes alike ... to stand together in every physical and political storm ... to unlock the kitchen door and allow disguised mummers in make Farley Mowat famous ( Book: The Boat That Wouldn't Float) .. to erase the bafflegab barriers that divide levels of citizens ... to create the best Canadian characters " ever "( . John Crosbie, Rex Murphy, Gordon Pinsent, ...the list is endless ) never put starch in it's underwear.. have the biggest smiling face in all of the universe be declared as a "Newfie" So here's a riddle for you: How many "newfies" does it take to get a politician to " tell it like it is" ? Answer: any"one"

    • Jay
      June 03, 2013 - 09:08

      "Newfie" is a derogatory term used to put Newfoundlanders in their place. I certainly don't smile when some idiot shows such disrespect.

  • Geoff Young
    June 01, 2013 - 08:25

    Why anyone is surprised that someone guaranteeing a loan to another would ask for something in return to benefit the country as a whole amazes me.

  • From away
    June 01, 2013 - 08:06

    Why not tell us about the deal itself? What exactly was it? Why was it made? What is behind the Feds negotiating position? The media has a responsibility to society to get to the facts. Instead they continue to focus on the superficial "human element". When will we get a true journalistic reporting?