Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Kathy Dunderdale says government wasn't trying to sneak a former senior aide into a high-profile oil regulatory job.

Dunderdale said she signed an executive order naming Elizabeth Matthews to the Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board in December, weeks before government acknowledged it had also nominated Danny Williams's former communications director as the board's vice-chair.

Matthews withdrew from contention from the nomination earlier this week, saying that the Liberal Opposition had created a poisonous political environment around the case.

Liberals have criticized the move as crass patronage. They allege the government tried to keep the appointment secret, and then lied about it.

Dunderdale, speaking with reporters Wednesday in St. John's, denied that.

"She was being nominated as vice-chair. We were only halfway through that process," she said.

"We didn't have concurrence from the federal government, and until we had concurrence from the federal government, there was no appointment."

Liberal Leader Yvonne Jones said an order-in-council from cabinet shows that Matthews was put on the board in December.

"[Natural Resources Minister Shawn] Skinner and the government came out and [were] deceitful to the people of the province and not revealing that they made this appointment then denying the fact that they had informed people," Jones said.


Liberal Leader Yvonne Jones believes government officials lied about the Matthews appointment after trying to keep it secret. (CBC )

Matthews, who is declining interview requests, said in an email to CBC News that she did not think she had been appointed to the board, despite the cabinet order. 

"When I received the OC in the mail I contacted the premier's office immediately. I was told ... at the time that the OC was sent in error, and in fact the individual I spoke to was unaware of it," Matthews wrote.

"So for me it was meaningless."

Matthews said she "never for one minute understood that I had been appointed to that board" and knew that federal government approval would have to be made first.

"Having worked in the premier's office for many years, I know how these things work," she said. "First of all, federal approval can take a long time and was in fact never achieved in this situation. As well, an appointed individual would receive a phone call, perhaps a letter with information about the appointment. And of course there would be an official public announcement by the province.

"In the absence of all of this, I never in any (way) assumed or believed that I was a member of the CNLOPB."