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Newfoundland Premier’s office confirms PM’s backing of hydro project

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 and Labrador Premier Kathy Dunderdale appeared to come away with little after a meeting with Prime Minister Stephen Harper where she'd been expected to raise concern over cuts to federal search-and-rescue services.

Ms. Dunderdale, who visited Ottawa Monday, had 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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Late Monday afternoon, Ms. Dunderdale's office released a three-sentence summary of her meeting with Mr. Harper, saying that he confirmed his backing of the Lower Churchill hydroelectric project at Muskrat Falls.

Mr. Harper explicitly promised a multibillion-dollar loan guarantee for the Labrador initiative during the 2011 election and has never shown any sign of backing away from this. The guarantee has not yet been finalized.

"We will continue to work toward finalization of the details for the federal loan guarantee as expeditiously as possible," said a statement attributed to Ms. Dunderdale by her office.

The Premier said she also discussed the economy, changes to Employment Insurance and search-and-rescue. She declined to speak to Ottawa reporters after the Harper meeting.

The Burton Winters tragedy saw Newfoundland and Labrador lock horns with Ottawa over whether the federal government was partly at fault.

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 this past May an increasingly irritated Ms. Dunderdale aired her frustration to the media. At the time she told reporters that in her opinion, Ottawa was ducking its obligation to rethink rules for deploying search-and-rescue help.

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"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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