Being premier was never a goal of Kathy Dunderdale’s. “I couldn’t have imagined it,” she admits.
But whether or not it was ever her dream, Dunderdale has taken over the most significant office at Confederation Building — and the province.
She’s held it officially since Dec. 3, a little more than a week after her extremely popular predecessor, Danny Williams, resigned and handed her the reins until a leadership convention is held next spring.
That’s impressive, considering that 10 years ago Dunderdale had “pretty much closed the door” on politics.
“I was fine with that,” she says.
But then, in 2000 or 2001, Williams asked her to get involved in his leadership bid.
That evolved into a role with his election readiness team. Williams then encouraged her to run in Virginia Waters in the 2003 provincial election.
Dunderdale did, and defeated high-profile Liberal Walter Noel.
It was the opposite outcome of her only other shot at provincial politics. In 1993, she lost her bid for a Burin Peninsula seat in the legislature — a loss she was expecting.
Dunderdale said she only ran to send a message to Clyde Wells’ Liberal government that there were issues with the way it was treating municipalities — mainly amalgamation — and how funding was awarded.
“I thoroughly enjoyed the experience and thought I might do it again, though (I was) not driven to do it,” she says.
To those unfamiliar with her past, Dunderdale’s drive has provided her with experience in a variety of areas.
She was born and raised in Burin, where she lived until 15 years ago.
She raised her son and daughter there, and was a stay-at-home mom during their formative years.
Dunderdale’s husband, Capt. Peter Dunderdale, was a master mariner who sailed the world, and they thought it was important for them to have a full-time parent.
“My first and most important job was in the raising of our two children,” she says.
In the early ’80s, Dunderdale was on an action committee that successfully lobbied Fishery Products International to reverse a decision to shutter its Burin plant.
It was a year-and-a-half of intense work that taught her about the social and economic implications of the fishery.
“The plant didn’t close, and it’s still operational,” she says proudly.
When the kids got older, Dunderdale made a point of getting more involved outside the home. That’s when she started in a variety of paid and unpaid roles.
She worked as a social worker with the Department of Social Services, and when the fishery collapsed, accepted an offer to be part an appeals board for inshore fishers.
She was elected to council in her hometown and served as deputy mayor. That got her involved in the provincial Federation of Municipalities — she did a stint as president — as well as the national municipalities organization.
Dunderdale also worked with an array of organizations, including the local school board and the Status of Women.
When her husband retired from the sea and her kids moved away for university, Dunderdale became heavily involved in the consulting company her spouse had started.
The work included advising the Marine Institute and Canadian Coast Guard, and writing a book on navigating ice-covered waters.
“He was an expert in his field and it was great to have him around fulltime, and it was the first time in our relationship of 30 years that had ever happened,” she said of her husband, who died in 2006 at the age of 56.
The Dunderdales eventually relocated to St. John’s and Williams recruited Dunderdale, who’s a former president of the Progressive Conservative party.
Since 2003, she’s been a fixture in the Tory caucus and cabinet. She was serving as minister of Natural Resources and as deputy premier before Williams bid adieu.
Dunderdale says Williams’ departure was a shock. She wondered how the party would fare and then realized a lot of people across the province were feeling the same way.
To allay public fears, Dunderdale says she decided to focus on the premier’s job and nothing else, not even the party’s spring leadership race.
She originally said her name wouldn’t be among the contenders, but as The Telegram reported Dec. 18, she’s reconsidering over Christmas as a result of pressure from supporters to do so.
Still, Dunderdale maintains being premier was never on her radar.
She says she’s not the kind of person who envisions things 10 years down the road, but prefers to live in the now.
“If you live your life more in the moment, the rest of it will work its way out,” she said.
The day The Telegram spoke to Dunderdale, she was living her life in the boardroom, doing year-end interviews with the media.
She answered 20 questions for The People’s Paper, and offered insight into a woman who considers her new job an honour and a privilege.
See 20 Questions, page 2