Getting to know the premier

Steve Bartlett
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Kathy Dunderdale talks about her life and answers 20 Questions

Premier Kathy Dunderdale initially said she would not seek the leadership of the PC Party. After pressure from supporters, she says she'll reconsider over Christmas.

20 Questions

What is your full name?

Kathleen Mary Margaret Warren Dunderdale.

Where and when were you born?

I was born in Burin Cottage Hospital in Burin in February 1952 in the midst of a great snowstorm.

What act of rebellion did you commit as a kid?

I broke curfew. We had a very disciplined household … my mother was very strict. That was a real bold act, which had consequences: grounding, and the telling off, which was excruciating.

Where is home today?

Home is in the middle of the beautiful district of Virginia Waters, in the heart of the city of St. John’s.

What are five songs in your iPod?

George Strait’s “Living For The Night.” Van Morrison’s “Tupelo Honey.” George Jones’ “He Stopped Loving Her Today.” Faith Hill and Tim McGrath. I hated country growing up, but love it now. I’m pretty eclectic in my tastes. I love music, I just love it. So at Christmas, one of my favourites is Mary J. Blige and Andrea Bocelli, “What Child Is This.” Oh, just gorgeous.

What are you reading right now?

I just finished two books. I just finished Linden MacIntyre’s “The Bishop’s Man.” and I think the other one is called “By the Rivers of Brooklyn” by Trudy Morgan-Cole. It’s based in Newfoundland and New York, about families that moved out of here when the fishery failed and settled in New York. It’s a wonderful book. It’s that whole piece between leaving here and moving to a new country and place, from the village of St. John’s to the city of New York, and the threads that break and the threads that bind. It’s really a good read.

What do you like to cook?

I love to cook. I like to do salmon with a curried applesauce. I love to do roast beef, pastas, soups. The older I get, the more I like soups, and interesting soups. But I like to cook and every opportunity I get to do a cooking course with some great chef here in the city, I try to do that.

What do you like to eat?

I used to be a really finicky eater, but now I like a broad range of foods. I love Asian cuisine and have a particular weakness for Indian and Thai.

What was your favourite year?

1972, the year I met my husband. I was home from university for the summer and his ship came into the Marystown drydock. He met friends of mine, who introduced him to me, and the rest is history.

What is your most cherished possession?

My memories. My husband passed away four years ago, and my mother passed away last year and my father died eight years ago, (as have) other members of my families. Especially this time of year, I spend time reflecting on all the wonderful times we had together. Wonderful moments in my life, and how rich and blessed I’ve been in my life, despite the losses. And (the memories) keep you warm. I have wonderful children and grandchildren, and between it all, ups and downs, life has been very good. And my memories ground me, especially as you get older. Sometimes life is bittersweet. You lose family, you lose friends, and so on. It’s important not to get lost in the sadness of all of that. My memories help keep me on the right side of it all.

What’s the best thing about being a politician?

The opportunity to do good.

The worst thing?

Giving up your life.

Who is the one person you’d most like to be stuck in the Confederation Building elevator with?

Patty Pottle. Patty is an Inuit woman, who’s lived a life that is completely foreign to me in many ways. And so to have a better understanding of her cultural experiences as a woman and as part of an Inuit community, yeah, I wouldn’t mind being stuck with Patty for five or six hours to discuss, “What was that all about?” and, “What is that all about?”

Who inspires you?

My mother has always been my greatest inspiration. She was just a marvel. She had 14 pregnancies. Twelve live births. She lost a child. She was part of a great love story with my father, which was very rich for them, but enriched all of our lives as well. A hard worker who really inspired all of us to be the best that we could be, whether times were good or times were bad. Our household was a positive place to grow up. No matter what was going on, she saw the good in us. The mirror she held up was a wonderful one. And I think about how hard she worked and, most of her life, she held a job outside the home or was doing some home business to supplement the family’s income. Just a tremendous woman. Just an awe-inspiring woman.

You’re the first female premier of Newfoundland and Labrador. Who would you like to inspire?

I’d like to inspire young women. It is sooo important that they realize that to be a well-rounded healthy society, women need to be involved in all aspects of that, especially in governance. Life impacts differently on women than it does men. When polices and programs are being developed, they are going to affect the lives of women. It’s extremely important that their voices are in that mix, and their experiences be in that mix, so that it has relevance to them. So to be a healthy, integrated community, any kind of government needs to reflect the community it serves. … Young men (enter politics) because they have so many role models and are encouraged to do that, culturally. We need to do the same thing for young women. One of the joys for me the last two weeks (as premier) has been the response I’ve had from young women, and young girls in school, and so on. There’s an excitement about this turn of events that doesn’t have anything to do with me, that just lifts me.

You mentioned you worked with the Status of Women in the ’90s. What does it mean for you to all of sudden have the top political job in the province?

Activists lobby for changes to boards and agencies and commissions, and they write letters when judges are being appointed and they encourage women to become involved in political activity, not just running the campaign, but actually being the candidate. … When a young woman can look at the Supreme Court and see men and women, then it becomes within the realm of possibility for them as they think about their lives and careers, that the opportunity to be there exists for them. So it’s important messaging, and it’s important to tell people that you can do whatever it is you want to do. The truth of it is that for many things, it is very, very difficult, still, for women to achieve things that sometimes come much more easily to men. That is not because anybody set out directly or malevolently to hold women back, but it’s about challenging old ways of thinking and doing things and understanding all of the good reasons why we ought to do it differently and be more inclusive. So, you’re not only talking about women. You’re talking about aboriginal people. You’re talking about people of colour. You’re talking about people with disabilities. Everybody brings something to the table. And for a healthy community, everybody really needs to be engaged.

What’s your best quality?

My sense of humour.

What’s your worst quality?

My sense of humour. I love to laugh and I love people who love to laugh. For me it’s always a redeeming quality in people. But you know that wanting to laugh can sometimes be distracting, and I can go off on a tangent real easily where you find that exchange of wit. Sometimes it interferes in my ability to stay focused, and sometimes it interfers with my ability to stay serious when I really ought to. (If) something is striking me as making me laugh, it is sometimes hard to manage.

What is your ultimate goal in politics, and in life?

I don’t set about my life in that kind of a way. I really don’t. It’s important to me, in terms of whatever I’m doing, to do the best I can. The most important things to me are my children saying she’s a good mother and my grandchildren saying she is a wonderful Mimi. And for the people of the province, when it’s time for me to move on, to say she did good. And it doesn’t get any better than that.

We usually ask people what they would do if they were premier. So now that you are premier, what will you do?

I think I’ve already started doing it. I’m a good listener and a good facilitator. I think I also have a good sense of direction, and for me, decisions should be principle-based. When you come with a certain approach, you’ve got to understand what your underlying principles are. What is it that you’re saying to the people of Newfoundland and Labrador? What am I saying to the people of Virginia Waters when I asked them to give me this job, what principles am I saying (are important)? Because you can’t cover off every job under the sun. And the thing that I say over and over all the time is that they become the touchstones of everything that you do. The last 7 1/2 years have really borne that out for me. Any time I felt we were straying away, getting off course, I would always direct us back to examine those principles. … The principles are extremely important and the best one for me is that I am here to act in the best interest of the people of Virginia Waters, first and foremost, because they are the people who elected me. And through them, (I act) for the people of Newfoundland and Labrador. I think if you are in this business, you always have to remember who hired you, and why.

Twitter: bartlett_steve

Organizations: Confederation Building, Fishery Products International, Social Services Federation of Municipalities Marine Institute Canadian Coast Guard Tory

Geographic location: Burin, Virginia Waters

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Recent comments

  • Mike
    December 24, 2010 - 17:14

    Kathy Dunderdale: Don't abandon Nfld. now. The past 10 years have been monumental and the most productive since 1949. I left in 1966, when the Small wood era was still in the air. We need you Kathy, all Canadian need you.

  • John
    December 24, 2010 - 15:08

    While I would like to see Mrs. Dunderdale accept the Premiership on a permanent basis, I feel that she should not be anointed as Premier. This isn't good for the PC party, nor for the province. She isn't Danny and if elected, she will make her own mark on the party and province, just as he did. I also strongly feel that she will surprise a lot of the nay-sayers with the competence and personality she has. She's "been there, done that and has the shirts to prove it." She seems to get her teeth into something and then turns into a bulldog until the job is done - one way or d'other

  • MARY
    December 24, 2010 - 11:02

    Wishing Premier Dunderdale and Family a very Merry Christmas and a happy, healthy New Year. Good luck with your future where ever it may take you!! God Bless you.