Premier Kathy Dunderdale refused to meet with Burton Winters’ family to talk about the boy’s tragic death last winter.
The explanation offered by both the Winters family and the Premier herself is that the family wanted to talk about details of the search effort. As such, the Premier would not meet with the family. She referred them, instead, to municipal affairs minister Kevin O’Brien who is also the minister responsible for fire and emergency services.
The Premier’s lingering political problem just got worse.
Dunderdale told reporters on Thursday that she was prepared to meet with Winter’s grandmother "one grandmother to another". But, according to the Telegram story], Dunderdale said that
she's not the best person to talk to on the details of the search and rescue operations, and the specific failures in the search for Burton.
She said those answers would come from Municipal Affairs Minister Kevin O'Brien, who is responsible for Fire and Emergency Services. Dunderdale said the family wasn't satisfied to speak to O'Brien, and that was the crux of the problem.
The latest twist in the political mishandling of this issue contains some rather curious elements. The Premier’s Office hasn’t seemed to have a grip on this one from the start. They initially tried to slough it off on the feds. They should have known that wouldn’t hold up since the feds would inevitably explain to people the simple facts of who is responsible for ground search and rescue.
Yet the longer they played along with the misguided Liberal and New Democrat agenda, they didn’t really win. They just delayed the time when someone would turn the questions to the provincial government.
As the story dragged on, anyone watching should have noticed that the family was particularly caught up in their grief. When they came to the Premier’s Office looking to meet, Dunderdale and her staff should have reasonably expected that the family would want more than a cup of tea and a good cry. They’d want to talk about the search and what went wrong. They’d probably want to talk about an inquiry.
As such, there really isn’t a solid reason why the Premier and her staff would have to yank the Premier at the last minute and substitute a minister. The stories running in the provincial media don’t look good and the Premier’s explanation looked and sounded as weak as the media line was.
In delivering her answers in the media scrum, Kathy Dunderdale did not look like the decisive leader she claims to be. Her answer seemed to be that she was comfortable with the nan to nan chat, a cup of tea and a cry but if the family wanted to talk about serious stuff, then they’d have to go talk to someone else.
Pushing the meeting off didn’t solve any problems. For one thing, some people didn’t take long to hit the obvious: why not just have Fairity sit in on the meeting? That’s a simple, practical question and a fairly obvious solution to the Premier’s “problem”. By avoiding the meeting altogether – the outcome that’s happened – the problem hasn’t gone away. The family is still committed to the cause.
The potential solution lay in the meeting with the Premier. Regardless of the reality, many people think of the Premier as the ultimate authority. It’s left from the days of Joe Smallwood. By making the case for an inquiry directly to the Premier, the family could get some emotional relief. Even if the Premier ultimately rejected their request in a thoughtful, compassionate letter, they might be able to find some relief having shared their grief with the Premier.
If the family had taken the Premier’s suggestion, they’d have met with O’Brien. And then they would have asked for the Premier. The Premier’s Office would be right back where they started.
All the Premier’s Office has done with this latest move is added to the festering pustule of grief that drives the family and the others clamouring for an inquiry into the Winters tragedy. They solved nothing. They resolved nothing.
And in the process, the Premier looks bad. Really bad.
It’s gonna take more than a cup of tea and a good cry to fix that.