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Nfld. Premier meets Harper in wake of search-and-rescue tragedy

Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Kathy Dunderdale talks with reporters at the annual Council of the Federation meeting in Halifax on July 26, 2012. Tom Osbourne quit her Progressive Conservative Party Thursday to sit as an independent, saying he has never supported Ms. Dunderdale.

Andrew Vaughan/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Newfoundland Premier Kathy Dunderdale is having a long-awaited sit-down with Prime Minister Stephen Harper this afternoon where she's expected to raise concerns over federal search-and-rescue cutbacks.

Ms. Dunderdale, in Ottawa Monday, first requested the meeting with Mr. Harper this past spring in the face of growing anger over the case of a 14-year-old Labrador boy who was found dead in February.

Burton Winters got lost while on the sea ice on his snowmobile and was missing for three days before his body was recovered.

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Ground search crews had requested help from the military because commercial helicopters couldn't fly in the bad weather. But the Canadian Forces declined to dispatch a search-and-rescue helicopter from Gander, Nfld. on the grounds it was needed in the case of more local emergencies.

In the aftermath of the tragedy, Ottawa refused to take any responsibility for what happened and an increasingly irritated Ms. Dunderdale aired her frustration to the media.

"I'm certainly at odds with Minister [Peter] MacKay," Ms. Dunderdale told CBC Radio's The House in a May 2012 interview.

Defence Minister Peter MacKay's responsibilities include federal search and rescue operations.

This past May, the Premier told Newfoundland reporters that in her opinion Ottawa was ducking its obligation to rethink rules for deploying search-and-rescue help.

"We've made a judgment. The government of Newfoundland and Labrador has made a judgment that we do not accept the explanation given by the federal government, the Minister of National Defence and JRCC in terms of the way they responded and why they responded that way," Ms. Dunderdale said in May.

"We think they need to revisit their protocols and when there is a call for humanitarian support in ground search and rescue, that you ought to respond if you're not deployed in your primary function."

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Mr. Harper also must deliver on a 2011 election campaign promise to guarantee a loan a $4.2-billion loan for the Lower Churchill hydroelectricity project. The guarantee has not yet been finalized.

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About the Author
Parliamentary reporter

Steven Chase has covered federal politics in Ottawa for The Globe since mid-2001, arriving there a few months before 9/11. He previously worked in the paper's Vancouver and Calgary bureaus. Prior to that, he reported on Alberta politics for the Calgary Herald and the Calgary Sun, and on national issues for Alberta Report. More

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