Premier Kathy Dunderdale — Photo by Joe Gibbons
Reporters asked Kathy Dunderdale Friday morning how it felt to hear the words “Good morning, premier” shortly after she was sworn in as the province’s 10th — and first female — premier.
“It’s still a little surreal right now, but I’m sure I’ll get used to it,” she said in her first scrum as the province’s political leader.
The swearing-in ceremony took place in front of a capacity crowd at Government House in St. John’s.
The candid and always quotable Lt.-Gov. John Crosbie congratulated Dunderdale and spoke fondly of former premier Danny Williams, who’s resignation he says caught him offguard.
“Certainly I had not anticipated that. It was a shrewd piece of work. Very clever, premier. It’s an act of genius, as a matter of fact,” Crosbie said to mass laughter.
Crosbie said he could never have walked away from the job as Williams did if he had ever “got (his) hands on the office.”
He also noted there would be many people vying to replace Williams full-time.
“Experienced politicians realize that unless you are the lead dog, the scenery never changes,” Crosbie quipped.
Dunderdale started her speech by recognizing the former premier, as well.
“On behalf of our province, I thank Danny Williams from the bottom of my heart for his enormous contribution and his unwavering dedication to the people of Newfoundland and Labrador,” she said.
She said Williams is leaving the province on a solid foundation, and she pledged to be as unwavering in her dedication to the service of the province as Williams was.
As she looked at her grandsons smiling up at her from the front row, Dunderdale said her thoughts drifted to her own grandmother and how different life was for her.
“Until 1925, a woman could not even vote in Newfoundland and Labrador, and today for the very first time in our province’s history a woman serves as premier. Imagine that,” she said to an enormous round of applause.
“Few changes of any consequence happen just by accident. They happen when good people resolve to make things better,” the premier continued in her maiden speech.
“With my heart and soul, I pledge to the people of our great province that we will not lose focus nor will we lose steam. We will defy any critics who would deny our children the opportunities that are theirs.”
After the official ceremony, Dunderdale told reporters it was an emotional day — and the end of an emotional eight days since Williams announced his resignation.
“I have a great deal of regret in seeing the (former) premier go. It has been my pleasure to work by his side for the last 10 years,” she said. “So I’m sad for us, but happy for him.”
Dunderdale said she knows there’s a learning curve ahead.
“And one of the greatest challenges is going to be that I’m not Danny Williams,” she said.
“However, I’m confident that I’ll make my own mark.”
She said she was sad that her late husband and her parents were missing from the day’s festivities.
The premier said she’s in politics to work on behalf of her grandsons and their generation and for those who’ll come after.
“I want them to always have the ability to be able to live here if they choose to do that, and to have a full life in every aspect,” Dunderdale said.
She confirmed she will not run in the leadership race to replace Williams, but she plans to run in the general election next fall.
And she hopes the fact that she’s been named premier will inspire other women to consider politics.
“Life impacts differently on women that it does on men,” she said.
“When you are developing policy and programs that affect women’s lives, you need to have that perspective at the table.”
Dunderdale said having Aboriginal Affairs Minister Patti Pottle — an Inuit woman — in cabinet means there is a different perspective.
“Even though the rest of us may be well-intentioned, well-read, well-educated ... there’s no way you can beat life experience, the cultural understanding. That’s why gender and diversity are so important (in politics). Your government should always reflect the community that you’re responsible for,” she said.
One of her government’s priorities is renewed contract talks with the province’s physicians.
Dunderdale also plans to keep her Natural Resources portfolio for the time being, but will spend the weekend deciding if a new minister will be appointed.
Asked about decorum in the House of Assembly, which opens Monday, Dunderdale admitted that no MHA is as engaged as they ought to be in making the best policies.
“It’s a place where passions are high and often expressed, but it’s important we be respectful of one another and the people who have sent us here,” she said.
Late Friday Dunderdale announced the appointment of Brian Taylor as her chief of staff.