Premier Kathy Dunderdale confirmed on the weekend that she was aware Tom Osborne didn’t support her as leader of the Conservative Party in 2010.
Dunderdale told CBC’s On Point with David Cochrane that aware that Osborne supported her as interim leader. However, Dunderdale said that when she wanted to seek the leadership on “a more permanent basis”, she polled the caucus and called Osborne last.
When Cochrane asked why Osborne was last on her list, Dunderdale said:
“…because you don’t miss when somebody… when he says now publicly that he didn’t support me, that’s not something you miss…”
That’s just one of several contradictions or misleading statements Dunderdale used to continue the Conservative attack on Osborne’s character.
Cochrane seemed to misinterpret Dunderdale’s remarks as he introduced a clip from Osborne’s news conference. He seemed to believe that what Osborne said about expressing concerns for her leadership and what Dunderdale said were two different things. Dunderdale did try to leave the impression that Osborne’s story now and his previous actions were contradictory.
In fact, Dunderdale’s account and what Osborne said last week match up nicely. That match-up includes the clip Cochrane played for Dunderdale in which Osborne said he had encouraged others with reservations to speak out against Dunderdale.
The contradictions are in Dunderdale’s comments. Dunderdale even said around the 4:25 mark of the interview that she did not disbelieve Osborne’s comments that he had concerns about her leadership and that he expressed. Her comment came with a rather odd grin. Dunderdale then claimed that “the private message” - presumably from Osborne - has been very different from the public one.
Words are important
Within the next 30 seconds, Dunderdale repeated her claim that Osborne had asked her for a cabinet seat in March 2012. But the key point to notice is that she inserted a word, to say that Osborne had “essentially” asked for a seat in cabinet. That’s a code word, not for what Osborne actually said but what Dunderdale was interpreting his words to mean. Given the problems with Dunderdale’s remarks immediately before that, her introduction of a new word is revealing.
Her interpretation doesn’t ring true, incidentally, because many people outside the Tory caucus knew at the time – March and April 2011 - that Osborne was looking for the job of Speaker.
He withdrew at the last minute.
Deputy Speakers are supposed to be “disconnected” from caucus
That’s not the only aspect of Dunderdale’s comments on the March conversation that don’t ring true. Dunderdale claimed that Osborne had been “disconnected” since former Premier Danny Williams dropped him from cabinet in 2007.
That sounds like a deliberately misleading way of describing it. Dunderdale knows that Osborne who served as deputy speaker of the House of Assembly after 2007. Deputy Speakers - like Speakers – are usually disconnected from the day-to-day partisan activities of caucus such as operating as partisan attack dogs on Twitter or Open Line.
Dunderdale and her caucus have used the same line since last week about Osborne. Note, though, that Joan Burke was fairly specific about the length of time Osborne has been out of sorts. Burke told CBC that Osborne had been “basically disengaged from our caucus for the last couple of years".
For his part, Osborne acknowledged the point:
"It's difficult to go to work knowing you're going to a place that you're not enjoying and perform at a hundred per cent," he said.
His conversation with Dunderdale in March 2012 would make sense in that light, though. He may well have been ostracised by the new leader given that she, her loyalists and those looking to boost their own standing knew of his views. As well, having been out of the partisan stream for several years due to his official responsibilities, Osborne sought a way back into the main stream.
Dunderdale’s reply in March 2012 was that he had to “build trust and build relationships.” She didn’t explain what that meant or how Osborne would do those things to her satisfaction. Again, Dunderdale did not explain why Osborne had to do that beyond the claim he had been “disconnected.”
Bill 29 – The Premier’s Secret Trade Mission ?
Osborne pointed to Bill 29 as a case where he voted for it out of fear of repercussions.
Dunderdale denies that she knew anything about Osborne’s concerns. She claims she was out of the country on a trade mission to the United States at the time the bill came up for debate in the House. Osborne didn’t raise anything with her either when she was in the province or while she was on the trade mission, by cell phone. According to Dunderdale, Osborne merely voiced a unspecified concern after the bill passed.
One big problem with Dunderdale’s account is that there is no public record of her trip to the United States in mid-June when the House debate Bill 29. The only public notice of an American trade mission was in February, 2012. In June, Dunderdale went to Calgary to deliver a speech to the local chapter of the Memorial University alumni association.
But that’s it.
Dunderdale then segued to a discussion of caucus solidarity. She said that if parties had a free vote on everything the government might be defeated on a money bill. No one had discussed a free vote on Bill 29. Caucus discipline was crucial in order to forestall disaster. Dunderdale also referred to caucus confidentiality. This provided a “safe place” for the airing of concerns, according to Dunderdale. But if discipline was crucial, what good would it have done Osborne to express concerns at any point before the government introduced the bill given that the Premier believed firmly in caucus discipline and that she – evidently – distrusted Osborne?
More questions than answers…and a communications problem
Kathy Dunderdale’s interview with David Cochrane added some intriguing new details to the drama started by Tom Osborne’s defection from the Conservative caucus. Dunderdale also raised some much larger questions about what has been happening inside the Conservative caucus over the past two years.
And no one has yet explained why Tom Osborne bolted now.
At the end of the interview, Kathy Dunderdale acknowledged that she has communications problems:
…I need to change our communication plan so that people have a better understanding of what it is we are trying to achieve.
She also talked about communicating effectively. As Dunderdale’s interview shows, she continues to have significant problems with communicating effectively despite having a new “strategic plan.” Contradictory comments and misleading statements are the antithesis of effective communications. Evidently, Kathy Dunderdale has a long way to go to sort out her problems. If her interview with David Cochrane is any indication, she is going to need three years to sort it out.
Of course, given the problems inside her caucus – also evident from her interview – Dunderdale may not get those three years.