Premier Elizabeth Matthews announced today … Sorry, my mistake. It’s just that I was so taken with Danny Williams’ unabashed, four-star appraisal of his one-time director of communications that it’s hard to believe she hasn’t somewhere along the way slipped onto the eighth floor of Confederation Building and booted Kathy Dunderdale back to the Burin Peninsula and the backbenches.
I mean to say: what a gal!
And we all thought she was just a publicity agent, a flak, a flunky, a spin doctor, hired to make Dan the Man look good, to sound good, to peddle him to the electorate, perhaps to even recommend a change in hairstyle now and then.
“Oh my Gawd, Dan, that part down the middle makes you look like Moe in The Three Stooges,” Liz may have complained to the boss. “Pleasssssse, just for me, put it on the side.”
But, nope, we were all wrong. Elizabeth Matthews was much, much more than a message manager, more than just a pretty face.
According to her man Dan, Elizabeth was Super Woman, the most competent female he had ever worked with in politics. Ever.
Even Kathy Dunderdale, the woman he appointed as his deputy premier, hand-picked to replace him on the Newfoundland throne, couldn’t measure up. She may have been the best of the cabinet lot, of both genders. But she wasn’t in Elizabeth Matthews’ league. At least that’s what our high road traveller was saying this week.
And the re-airing of the Williams-Matthews swan-song, first produced in the Confederation Building studios a day before the saviour decided he no longer wished to change water into wine, but could still turn a press secretary into an instantaneous expert on the offshore, is a reminder of a disheartening side of Newfoundland politics, or politics generally, I suppose.
Nobody emerged looking very good, except the CBC which should get credit for digging out the letter offering Matthews a position on the Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board.
For his part, Williams once again tried to defend the indefensible, but only the truly brain-washed would have recognized this job offer as something other than blatant patronage, a reward for loyalty.
Patronage is a nauseating concept at the best of times, but this particular move by Williams was one that hit a sore spot throughout the province, I believe, given that the job was a critically important position, keeping an eye on the offshore and protecting the lives of Newfoundlanders working in that business. It should have been way, way above the you-kiss-my-arse-I’ll- kiss-yours philosophy of politics.
And, in true character, Williams let his mouth runneth over: not only did he predictably declare that he had no regrets about wanting to make his chief flak an offshore regulator, but he wound up insulting each and every woman who’d shared his cabinet table and caucus, including his successor.
It was a childish slap at Dunderdale and she handled the insult in an appropriate manner, refusing to enter the schoolyard with her former boss.
But Dunderdale didn’t emerge from this voyage to the recent pass smelling like a rose either.
When the Matthews nomination was first revealed earlier this year, Dunderdale left the impression with the province that this was her appointment, period, and hers alone, and that Williams had no involvement. Now Dunderdale has had to admit she had been told by Williams that Matthews was his choice.
Still, she insisted it was her call.
Sure it was.
Dunderdale was still glowing after Williams had anointed her — big hugs, teary eyes all around — and was immersed in a mode of “my wish is your command.”
Dunderdale could have, should have, displayed some independent spirit, some guts, and enhanced her credibility by rejecting Matthews’ name outright.
In any case, the episode will fade away — it’s one of those stories with a brief but tasty shelf-life — and will obviously have no bearing whatsoever on the easy trip the Tory Train will be taking in a few weeks towards the formation of a new government.
Premier Elizabeth Matthews announced today…
Bob Wakeham has spent more than 30 years as a journalist in Newfoundland and Labrador. He can be reached by email at email@example.com.