N.L. Premier 'At Odds' With Peter MacKay

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PETER MACKAY PAKISTAN
The government of Newfoundland and Labrador is growing increasingly frustrated with Conservative MP Peter MacKay, whose responsibilities as minister of national defence include overseeing search and rescue. (Getty) | Getty Images


The government of Newfoundland and Labrador is growing increasingly frustrated with Conservative MP Peter MacKay, whose responsibilities as minister of national defence include overseeing search and rescue.

In an interview airing Saturday on CBC Radio's The House, Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Kathy Dunderdale was asked if she was at odds with her federal counterparts, to which she told host Evan Solomon: "I'm certainly at odds with Minister MacKay."

"Certainly in terms of search and rescue here in the province, but particularly in terms of the humanitarian response that we looked for [from] them on the search for that young man from Labrador."

Burton Winters, a 14-year-old boy from Labrador, was found dead three days after getting lost in a blizzard last February.

Dunderdale told Solomon the federal government "failed" them with part of the search for Winters.

According to the premier, it has been a "frustrating" four months trying to get answers from MacKay and getting him to take responsibility for "poor judgment in decision-making and a timely response."

MacKay has said that while the federal government is there to assist the province, the primary responsibility for ground search and rescue rests with Newfoundland and Labrador.

But Dunderdale maintains Ottawa could have dispatched a Cormorant helicopter from Gander and at least have attempted a search.

Dunderdale has rejected calls by the Winters family and others for an inquiry, saying all the information is spelled out in months of correspondence between her government and MacKay which she tabled at the legislature this week.

Also in an interview airing Saturday on CBC's On Point, Peter Penashue, the federal cabinet minister from Labrador, told host David Cochrane that Ottawa would co-operate with a provincial inquiry, should Dunderdale call one.

Search and rescue

Despite the fact that Dunderdale played "a very active part" in the ABC (Anything But Conservative) campaign designed by her predecessor Danny Williams to shut out Harper's Tories in the 2008 election, she told Solomon her job as Premier is to represent the people of Newfoundland and Labrador.

Sometimes that will include reminding the federal government that they have a responsibility to her province "whether we supported them electorally or not," she said.

Dunderdale pointed out that she has not hesitated to applaud the federal Tories for "good things" they have done, like their promise of a loan guarantee for Muskrat Falls, but insisted she would not hesitate to call them out "when they are not responding in what we feel is an appropriate manner."

And one of those "big issues" for Dunderdale is the closure of the Maritime Rescue Sub-Centre in St. John's.

It's an issue Dunderdale says she is "extremely frustrated with, as are most Newfoundlanders & Labradorians."

That's because the federal government announced the closure of the Maritime Rescue Sub-Centre in St. John's not long after last year's federal election.

The centre, whose primary function was to communicate with military, coast guard and civilian ships in rescue responses, closed at the end of April.

That work is now expected to be handled on the mainland.

Dunderdale did not hide her frustration, telling Solomon that Ottawa needs to talk to her about search and rescue, particularly when they are planning to make "substantive changes that affect the lives of people in every community in this province."

Earlier this month, more than 1,000 workers with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, including 763 with the Canadian Coast Guard, received notices that their jobs could be "affected" by the federal government's budget cuts.

The Department of Fisheries and Oceans confirmed of those "affected" 400 jobs would be cut.

Employment Insurance reform

Dunderdale told Solomon the federal government's proposed changes to employment insurance "did not take into consideration the sensitivities" of workers in rural Canada, particularly in the fisheries industry.

The Premier said there was a "disconnect between program changes that are meant to achieve one goal and the reality of people's lives in rural parts of this country."

But Diane Finley, the minister of Human Resources and Skills Development responsible for the overhaul, told Solomon the proposed changes would indeed consider both "individual and local circumstances."

Dunderdale said she was not consulted ahead of the changes but wishes she had been, given the fact that E.I. reform has been at the table at the Council of the Federation — a meeting of premiers — for the last number of years, she said.

Finley said they had consulted extensively across the country.

MacKay, who was in his riding on Friday selling the proposed reform, said the response from employers was positive.

"We heard from a number of companies that were quite excited about the changes," said MacKay.

A few days earlier, Public Works Minister Rona Ambrose described the changes on Twitter as "like 'E-Harmony' for job seekers and employers," matching Canadians looking for work "with available jobs, data [and] support."

Dunderdale told Solomon the proposed E.I. reform "is certainly much more than that."

She has requested a meeting with Prime Minister Stephen Harper to detail all of her concerns.

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