Dunderdale reflects on an eventful year in government
Premier Kathy Dunderdale
A year ago, becoming premier of Newfoundland and Labrador was the furthest thing from Kathy Dunderdale’s mind.
Yet a month into 2010, Danny Williams went to the United States for heart surgery and, as deputy premier, Dunderdale took over the reins of government until the premier was back on his feet.
Little did she know she would end the year back in the premier’s chair.
“I guess the biggest story of the year has been the premier’s resignation,” Dunderdale said of Williams in a year-end interview with The Telegram.
“Being premier of the province is not a pathway that I have ever put myself on.”
Dunderdale said she could walk away from politics tomorrow proud, happy and satisfied with what she’s accomplished as an MHA and cabinet minister.
She says she was surprised when Williams appointed her deputy premier in the first place, and again by his resignation, which thrust her back into the province’s top job.
Dunderdale said when Williams was off following surgery earlier this year, he was still around for advice. But the experience of running the province for those six weeks in February and March bolstered her confidence.
“It certainly had a calming effect on me when the prospect of having to do this in a more substantial way came upon me,” she said. “It was an opportunity for me to learn how this office worked, and the roles and the responsibilities of the premier.”
When Williams announced he was stepping down, Dunderdale said she had no intention of vying for the premier’s chair full time, but people have been asking her to reconsider.
“I’ve been inundated with expressions of support,” she said.
Out of respect to those people, Dunderdale said she’s “opened the door a crack” to consider putting herself forward as the Conservative party’s permanent leader.
On Wednesday afternoon, CBC News reported Dunderdale will announce her intention to stay on as premier, with the support of the Tory caucus.
During an exit interview with The Telegram in early December, Williams also reflected on 2010.
“It’s been a tumultuous year,” he said.
He also talked about getting an early start with the budget before he went to Florida for surgery and said he was pleased it, despite the projected deficit, which has since morphed into a modest surplus.
After his surgery, Williams flew to Vancouver for the Winter Olympics, despite doctors’ warnings, to see some of the 90 Newfoundland and Labrador artists perform and to take in the gold medal hockey game and some curling.
When the House of Assembly opened for its spring session, Williams was back for a war of words with Quebec.
“When I say Quebec, I mean Hydro-Québec, and I qualify that all the time because I love the people of Quebec,” he said.
Williams maintained the utility’s treatment of this province has been “unfair and unjust,” and said he wanted to take that message to others in the country.
He said the Maritime route for Lower Churchill power — negotiated with Emera Energy and the province of Nova Scotia — gives the province options, even if power can be sold through Quebec in the future.
“Now, basically, we have leverage,” he said. “Instead of Hydro-Québec being in the driver’s seat and having a stranglehold on our power, we now have an alternative.”
Williams contended that beyond putting a plan in place to develop at least part of the Lower Churchill, the deal did something else, too.
“We’ve developed a whole new Atlantic co-operation and alliance,” he said.
“What’s come together between Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador is a very good thing.”
Dunderdale, meanwhile, who spent most of the year as natural resources minister, focused much of her year-end interview on that portfolio.
But she said hurricane Igor was likely the second biggest story of 2010.
It had a “monumental effect” on the province, she said, both on the people directly affected, and on the governments — provincial and municipal — who had to put emergency plans into action.
She said there were a lot of lessons learned from the disaster.
“Being premier of the province is not a pathway that I have ever put myself on.” Premier Kathy Dunderdale
“I think it brought the whole issue of climate change home in a very direct way. We have been spending a lot of time and a lot of energy around climate change and what it is that we need to do to ... mitigate that in whatever way we can.”
That’s part of the reason the province is so gung-ho to develop the Lower Churchill.
“A huge event for us, both economically and psychologically, is the Lower Churchill, the Muskrat Falls (deal),” she said.
“The potential we have here around green, renewable energy is enormous.”
The premier said strategic planning for the project began in the early days of the Williams government and laid out a series of steps which had to happen for the Lower Churchill to be developed.
While the Maritime route was a Plan B, it was developed at the same time as the Plan A of going through Quebec, she said.
According to Dunderdale, the technology to be used to transmit power to Nova Scotia via subsea cable is not new and has been used in Europe to wheel a greater amount of electricity a longer distance.
She credits the province’s positive relationship with Emera, which “saw all the possibilities” and potential of the Lower Churchill.
Dunderdale said the deal is fair for both sides and transparent, as the term sheet is available to anyone who’s interested.
She was pleased to see Nova Scotia Premier Darrell Dexter quoted in a Halifax paper as saying it was smart for people in Eastern Canada to align themselves with Newfoundland and Labrador.
Dunderdale said a significant part of the process included a two-year negotiation with the Labrador Innu to reach the New Dawn Agreement — which the Innu must ratify before development can begin.
“The building of the relationship between our two peoples while that process unfolded was just as significant as anything else,” she said.
Dunderdale also touched on the “troubling” relationship between this province and Hydro-Québec.
“We’ve had a great deal of concern in this province since the ’60s, certainly the ’70s, about the fact that we are an isolated (electric) system and that the only ... route we saw to (wheel power) out of here was through Quebec,” she said.
Dunderdale believes the Lower Churchill will form the foundation of the province’s economy in the long term, once offshore oil has been depleted.
“There’s tremendous opportunity for us to export that power to the rest of the country and into the United States,” she said.
Such an economic base makes all the province’s other goals possible, she added, one of which is to convince Ottawa to develop a pan-Canadian power grid.
“It’s been frustrating in terms of trying to put an east-west grid on the political agenda of the federal government,” Dunderdale said.
“Never mind the economic opportunities that come with all of that, and the opportunities for climate change abatement.
“We belive it’s a matter of national security.”
With so much power being sold into the U.S., she wonders what would happen in the event of an energy crisis.
Another energy-related announcement that pleased the premier in 2010 was the Hibernia South extension.
The original Hibernia project was the first of the province’s oil fields to go into production.
“There was something very satisfying about (signing the) Hibernia southern extension, like the loop had been closed.”
She said one priority for the new year will be to continue to try to purchase the 8.5 per cent share Ottawa controls in Hibernia.
As for the year ahead, and the direction the government might take, Dunderdale said that will depend on the vision of who wins the PC leadership race this spring.
The leadership contest will be followed closely by a new budget, looking toward a provincial election next fall.
“It’s certainly going to be an interesting year,” Dunderdale said.