David Cochrane called it right the other day in the scrum with Kathy Dunderdale. He asked if she was laying the groundwork for a failure at the trade talks, a failure of her personal position.
Dunderdale denied it in the scrum, but her latest claim – full of the same vague and largely unsubstantiated claims as on Monday – sounds like someone who is trying to blame someone else before the talks finish and the end result doesn’t match what she’s been personally staking out as a position.
You have to distinguish between Dunderdale’s position and that of others in her own administration because the CBC stories Thursday left out a crucial piece of information: what the Premier has claimed to be bargaining objectives and what the fisheries minister said the provincial government was after don’t match up. That was news on Wednesday.
That’s crucial because the Premier’s claim of federal bad faith in the negotiations simply disappears in a ball of hot air if you listen to what fisheries minister Derrick Dalley said about the whole business: talks are ongoing. There’s a nice bit of scrum video on the CBC web site.
Frankly, the bigger story is the obvious internal differences within the provincial government, now exacerbated by the Premier’s chat with the CBC from Grand Falls-Windsor.
The CBC online story about the Premier’s latest claim has plenty of confusion in it. The headline talks about a breach of confidence, presumably related to the Premier’s claim that the federal government is talking about the provincial position with other provinces.
The first couple of paragraphs of the story, though, talk about something else entirely. They tell of supposed side-deals between the federal government and individual provinces. The story says these side-deals are to build support for the final agreement. And the provincial beef is that the provincial government here isn’t getting one of those side deals.
There’s even a quote from the Premier that finishes on that “we’re left out” angle:
"And that's not acceptable, when people are wheeling and dealing. And talking about what they would accept and what they wouldn't accept. And we're excluded from that conversation."
Don’t read too much into the punctuation of that. Kathy Dunderdale spoke in one long sentence. Take out the full stops and the quote is exactly what the body of the story says: Kathy isn’t happy about side deals “and we’re excluded from that conversation.”
Some of you might be scratching your head trying to figure out what Kathy’s beef is. After all, if you go back to Monday, you can see that the provincial government here actually has been in one-on-one talks with the federal government. That’s what the federal trade minister was doing here on the Victoria Day weekend when the Premier insisted on nailing down the loan guarantee before she talked trade.
Funny how she claimed the linkage was other way around.
Anyway, what were the Victoria Day talks about? Presumably, they were about specific provincial issues and what options might exist to close a deal among all the provinces and the federal government. Call it a “side-deal” if you want but it sure looks like what you’d expect to see in multi-party talks where different parties have different issues. One-on-one talks with each of the provinces. Par for the course.
Notice that Kathy Dunderdale did not give one single concrete detail to show how what she claims is going on isn’t what you’d expect to see in these free trade talks. That missing detail should set off all sorts of warning alarms.
Talking about what another province wants? Absolutely normal, especially considering the trade talks are at a crucial stage and in light of Kathy Dunderdale’s big show on Monday. The provincial negotiators probably wanted a frank talk with the federal government about what the frig is going on. They’d be legitimately concerned about the potential that intransigence by the provincial government here could have serious consequences for everyone else.
The provincial types on the mainland might well be surprised to find out that this province’s position is one thing in Kathy Dunderdale’s mouth but something radically different from her own fisheries minister. Go look at Dalley’s scrum, if you haven’t done so already. Talks are going on, he says at one point, almost word for word what the federal government is saying. You can bet that every provincial government – and the Europeans too – have been listening and watching every word.
At the same time, though, what Dalley has said about the fish processing detail is most certainly not what Kathy Dunderdale has been saying. That’s really the aspect of this story that leaps out.
What is she up to? Well, Dunderdale’s latest claim could well be a last-ditch effort on her part to undermine those in her own administration who are trying to close a very successful deal but one that will radically change the economy in parts of the province that Dunderdale is familiar with.
It would also bring the kind of change Dunderdale has been fighting for decades. Remember that Dunderdale got into politics all those years ago in a fight to save a fish plant in Burin. In 2011, she scolded fish plant workers in Marystown who wouldn’t take work to stamp themselves up for employment insurance. She’s got a track record.
Look past the superficial bits of this story. Look at the fact that Dunderdale didn’t offer anything to back her claims. The talks could be explained perfectly naturally if you don;t assume Kathy si telling the story in full and exactly as it is, for the first time ever in her political career.
Ask yourself, instead, why she is suddenly talking public now about these negotiations, obviously trying to cause problems in these crucial days, and yet not explaining what is talking about or how these talks could harm the province.