Penashue slams O'Keefe for remarks about Harper

Newfoundland and Labrador's representative in the Harper cabinet says he is "truly puzzled" by St. John's Mayor Dennis O'Keefe's comment that he is looking forward to the eventual departure of the prime minister.

St. John's mayor, a longtime Tory supporter, spoke favourably about PM's eventual departure from office

Labrador MP Peter Penashue is hitting back at recent comments made by St. John's Mayor Dennis O'Keefe. (CBC )

Newfoundland and Labrador’s representative in the Harper cabinet says he is "truly puzzled" by St. John’s Mayor Dennis O’Keefe’s comment that he is looking forward to the eventual departure of the prime minister.

In a prepared statement e-mailed to CBC News, Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Peter Penashue took dead aim at O’Keefe.

"His fear mongering on St. John’s becoming a ‘colonial outpost’ and now his comments about looking forward to the end of a Conservative government in Ottawa are reckless and nothing more than political posturing," Penashue said.

St. John's Mayor Dennis O'Keefe says he is looking forward to Prime Minister Stephen Harper's eventual departure from office. (CBC)

"As a cabinet minister, I can assure his worship that our government is committed to Newfoundland and Labrador, and we continue to work on behalf of the residents of our great province including delivering on many initiatives that improve the quality of life for all Newfoundlanders and Labradorians."

Earlier this week, O'Keefe told CBC News he is looking forward to a day when Stephen Harper is not prime minister.

The St. John’s mayor has worked on Tory campaigns since the Diefenbaker era.

"The Harper government is pretty well immovable for the next four or five years," O'Keefe said.

"But there will be another time, there will be another government. And it won't be a Harper government — thank God — and we'll see some movement when it comes to treating this province fairly."

O'Keefe has been particularly concerned about what he considers a declining federal government presence in St. John's, especially of senior managers who have the authority to make decisions.

Penashue outlined a laundry list of federal initiatives he says are proof of the Harper government’s commitment to the province. Those include financial support for the proposed Lower Churchill hydroelectric project and support for the sealing industry.

"Make no mistake, while others play politics with the province, I'm proud to say that our government will continue to address the needs and deliver results for the people of Newfoundland and Labrador," Penashue said in his press release.

Tumultuous relationship

Newfoundland and Labrador politicians — even Tory ones — have had a tumultuous relationship with the prime minister in recent years.

Former Tory premier Danny Williams fought a long-running war of words against Harper, even actively campaigning against his federal cousins in the 2008 federal election.

Since Williams’s departure from the political scene 18 months ago, there has been a détente between the provincial and federal Conservatives. Premier Kathy Dunderdale campaigned with Harper in the province last year.

After being shut out of Newfoundland and Labrador seats in 2008, the federal Conservatives eked out one victory in 2011, when Penashue defeated Liberal Todd Russell in Labrador.