Nfld. & Labrador

Dunderdale says Osborne lobbied for return to cabinet

Premier Kathy Dunderdale says former Tory MHA Tom Osborne lobbied her personally for a greater role in her government just six months ago, including a possible return to cabinet.

Premier and MHA who defected from Tories have sharply different recollections of events

Premier Kathy Dunderdale responds to MHA Tom Osborne leaving the Tories 8:13

Premier Kathy Dunderdale says former Tory MHA Tom Osborne lobbied her personally for a greater role in her government just six months ago, including a possible return to cabinet.

The premier says Osborne’s public comments about the reasons for his resignation from the Tory caucus contrast sharply with what he has said privately.

On Point

For the full interview with Premier Kathy Dunderdale, watch the next episode of On Point with David Cochrane on Saturday at 7:30 p.m. NT. On Point Radio airs on Radio One on Fridays at 3:30 p.m. NT.

Dunderdale says she has known Osborne has been unhappy since his removal from cabinet in 2007.

"Everyone has been aware of Tom’s discontent," the premier said during a feature interview on this week’s episode of On Point with David Cochrane.

"I expected that he would make an exit at some time."

Osborne served in the environment, health and justice portfolios during Danny Williams’ first four years as premier, beginning in 2003.

While Dunderdale says she knew Osborne was unhappy, she was surprised by Thursday’s announcement, noting she was not given the "courtesy" of a heads-up. Osborne maintains he attempted to contact the premier’s chief of staff, but his messages went unreturned.

Osborne was critical of the Dunderdale's leadership, saying he has never supported her.

But Dunderdale says Osborne endorsed her in a unanimous caucus vote as acting leader after Williams’ retirement in late 2010.

And when Dunderdale decided to seek the full-time job several weeks later, she again polled Tory MHAs.

"Tom Osborne was the last call I made, but he promised to endorse me," Dunderdale said.

Why was Osborne the last call she made?

"When he says publicly now that he never really supported me, that’s not something you miss," Dunderdale said.

"However, it was incumbent on me as a potential leader of the party to poll all of the caucus, to talk to the caucus, to give him an opportunity to express any reservations he might have about my leadership. He didn’t do any of that. He, in fact, said that he would support me if there was a leadership bid."

Dunderdale says she had a "very, very frank" discussion with Osborne this March about his role in the party.

She says he asked for a "broader role," including a return to cabinet. Dunderdale says she told Osborne he needed to rebuild his relationship with her and his caucus colleagues.

"Tom has been extremely discontent[ed], disconnected, since former premier Williams took him out of cabinet in 2007," she noted.

"In his conversation with me in March, when he said he wanted to move out of the margins and into the full thrust of government again, I laid out very clearly what he needed to do to build trust, and to build relationships."

The premier says she told Osborne he would again be considered for a bigger role if he did that.

Dunderdale also took issue with Osborne’s comments about Bill 29, which put into place a broad range of restrictions on the province’s access-to-information laws.

The premier says Osborne did not raise any issues with the legislation before its introduction.

Tom Osborne quit the Tory caucus Thursday, and will sit as an Independent. (CBC)

After Bill 29 passed, Dunderdale says Osborne only mentioned vague concerns with her about not liking it.

And she is rejecting as untrue Osborne’s comments about being told there would be "repercussions" for his constituents if he didn’t toe the party line.

"In this business, you always go around with your resignation in your back pocket," she said. "You really have to. Because from time to time issues will arise that you may not be 100 per cent on side with. But sometimes you have to really suck that up. If it means there’s going to be a negative impact perhaps in your district, but it’s for the greater good of the province, then you go with that.

"But if there is something that you fundamentally disagree with, then that’s the time you take that out, recognizing that you may never get the chance to put it back. I can tell you that there is no one or nobody that would ever make me stand in the house of assembly and support something that I fundamentally disagree with. I just would not do it."

Different tale

Osborne has a different recollection of events. He says he immediately started to voice his concerns two years ago when Dunderdale was about to take the helm.

"I don't think she's got the strength, the charisma or the vision, just to name a few, that the province needs at this time to lead the province the way it has been led the previous eight years," Osborne told CBC Radio’s St. John’s Morning Show on Friday.

"I know that filling Danny Williams' shoes were tough shoes, big shoes to fill. I think that a lot of good that was done during that eight-year period is starting to become unravelled."

Osborne maintains he told Dunderdale a year ago he was not interested in a return to cabinet.

"Right from the start, when we formed the government in October of 2011 under the new leader, I made it known to others in our caucus that I had no desire to serve in cabinet," he said. "I did have an interest in the Speaker position." Ross Wiseman won that job.

Osborne says his decision to bolt from the Tory caucus had nothing to do with thwarted cabinet aspirations.

"My decision was not based on cabinet. I have no desire to serve in the cabinet under this administration."

During an interview on CBC's Here & Now on Friday evening, Osborne dismissed comments on his departure as political posturing.

"Yesterday, the party message was: I was disengaged, not attached to the caucus. That didn't stick. Today, the message is: I wanted to be more engaged, I wanted a cabinet post. If that doesn't stick, tomorrow there'll be another message," said Osborne. 

He says he will sit as an independent when the house of assembly reconvenes.

Osborne also says he is open to overtures from the Liberals and New Democrats, but that's a decision he won't make for a few months.