Nfld. & Labrador

Deputy N.L. premier Rideout quits cabinet in spat with Williams

Tom Rideout, a former premier and long-serving member of Newfoundland and Labrador's legislature, said Wednesday he is quitting his cabinet seat.

Williams says departing minister was 'picking the pockets of other members'

Tom Rideout resigned his cabinet post Wednesday, citing a dispute with Premier Danny Williams over road upgrades. ((CBC))

Tom Rideout, a former premier and long-serving member of Newfoundland and Labrador's legislature, said Wednesday he is quitting his cabinet seat because of a dispute with Premier Danny Williams over road upgrades.

Rideout told reporters he resigned as deputy premier as well as the minister of fisheries and aquaculture on Wednesday morning because the premier's office blocked extra road work for his district.

Williams, meanwhile, said Rideout had crossed a line when he lobbied for extra money for his district while Williams was out of the country, and by "strong-arming" another cabinet minister to get what he wanted.

Rideout said he had reached an agreement with Transportation Minister Dianne Whalen to increase road spending in Baie Verte-Springdale by $1 million, from $2.5 million to $3.5 million.

Even though the funding was publicly announced on May 15, Rideout said Williams's office put a block on the extra funds, saying that it went beyond what had originally been approved for this year's budget.   

"I was called to the premier's office yesterday and advised that the additional million dollars was not on, that the tenders would not be called for the additional work," Rideout told reporters.

Rideout said that Williams ordered the Department of Transportation and Works to issue a new statement announcing the change.

Rideout said that demand was the breaking point.

"So I informed the premier's office, the person I was speaking with, that I was not prepared to live with that decision, and if that decision was final, then I would be tendering my resignation today," Rideout said.

Will consult political supporters about future

Rideout is staying on, at least for the time being, as the member for Baie Verte-Springdale. Rideout said he will consult with his political supporters before he makes any further decisions about his future.

Premier Danny Williams said Rideout 'used his position as a deputy premier to get more funds.' ((CBC))

Rideout's surprise departure was raised in the house of assembly, where Williams used words like "intimidation" to describe how Rideout lobbied for extra roads money while Williams was attending an oil show in Houston last month.

"I am not going to allow anyone in this government at all, under any circumstances, to come in and try and strong-arm a minister to get more funds," Williams said.

Rideout "used his position as a deputy premier to get more funds. That's not acceptable," said Williams.

Williams told the legislature that the extra funding for Rideout's district came at the expense of other needy districts.

"That means less there's less available for everybody else in every other district in the province ... in effect, he's picking the pockets of other members. I'm not going to stand for it. I'm not going to allow it," said Williams.

Transportation Minister Dianne Whalen told the legislature she felt 'pressured' in her dealings with Tom Rideout. ((CBC))

Liberal Leader Yvonne Jones suggested that Williams had interfered in the issue, by stepping between Rideout and Whalen. Williams said it's no secret that his office is involved in allocating road spending throughout the province, but to ensure they're spent fairly.

Jones asked Whalen, meanwhile, to explain why she and Rideout jointly issued a government news release last week.

Whalen said that "in sober thought and hindsight," she realized she had made a mistake.

"I felt was strong-armed and pressured," Whalen told the legislature.

Rideout has had long career

Rideout, who turns 60 in June, was first elected to the house of assembly in 1975 and held his Baie Verte-area seat for the next 16 years.

In 1989, he won a tightly fought leadership race for the provincial Progressive Conservative party, but held the premier's chair for just 45 days. Rideout called a snap election, but lost it to the Liberals under Clyde Wells.

Although he retired from the legislature in 1991 — and subsequently launched a law career — Rideout returned to the house of assembly in 1999, when he was in Lewisporte district. For the last election, in October 2007, Rideout returned to his roots and ran for the Tories in Baie Verte-Springdale.

Rideout has served in key roles in the PC government since the Tories regained office in 2003, and has also been serving as government house leader.