Newfoundland and Labrador voters elected their first female premier Tuesday night.
“I feel so honoured and privileged,” Kathy Dunderdale told supporters at the Delta Hotel in St. John’s.
She had held the job for the past 10 months — after being named to the post by former premier Danny Williams first and then by her party — but Tuesday’s result gave her a mandate of her own.
Click Here to compare 2007 and 2011 provincial election results through this interactive map developed by ESRI Canada.
Dunderdale’s election — the Progressive Conservatives’ third straight majority — wasn’t the only historic or interesting storyline in the 2011 vote.
The New Democratic Party enjoyed its best poll performance ever, winning five seats and knocking off Natural Resources Minister Shawn Skinner in St. John’s Centre.
The Liberals also gained, adding two MHAs and managing to hold onto official Opposition status with a total of six seats.
When all the ballots were counted, the PCs did as expected and won a majority with 37 seats (down from the 43 they held going into the vote).
“Thank you. Thank you. Thank you,” an excited Dunderdale said as she stepped on the Delta stage.
She later told reporters she’d celebrate the win with family and friends.
Liberal Leader Kevin Aylward — who failed in his bid to win a seat in the House of Assembly — said his party also had reasons to celebrate; that more Grit MHAs were elected and they maintained official Opposition status.
“At the end of the day, there’s a government now that’s been elected, and they have a responsibility, but also the Liberal party will be in opposition and we’ll have that responsibility and we’ll take it seriously,” Aylward said.
”The Liberal Party is alive and well, and it’s going to be a lot better coming up.”
Aylward said he always knew it would be a hard fight, given that he only took on the leader’s job about two months before election day.
“We did get issues out there about the fishery, we did get issues out there about rural Newfoundland and Labrador, and it wasn’t about trying to get a divide on the go, it was about saying what it is,” he said.
While Aylward didn’t win his district, two former Liberal leaders were elected, Yvonne Jones and Jim Bennett.
NDP Leader Lorraine Michael congratulated Dunderdale on her victory, but followed the accolades with a warning.
“I am putting (the government) on notice. Now the government has an opposition to contend with,” she told a crowded ballroom at the Sheraton Hotel in St. John’s.
“I and the four new (NDP) MHAs ... will be relentless in speaking out for the people we represent,” Michael said. “We will continue to fight for the things we believe in, the things that matter to Newfoundlanders and Labradorians.”
Something that mattered to Dunderdale last night was the loss of three St. John’s seats to Michael’s party.
She said she knew the Tories were in a tight race in St. John’s North and St. John’s Centre, but that she wasn’t expecting one in St john’s East. There, the NDP’s George Murphy — the taxi driver known for predicting gas prices — defeated incumbent Ed Buckingham.
“But you know the Jack Layton orange wave had made it’s impact here in the province, and as a result, we lost three sitting MHAs and a cabinet minster, and I’m really sorry about that,” Dunderdale said.
Another cabinet minister went down to defeat besides Skinner, who lost to filmmaker Gerry Rogers, the province’s first openly gay MHA. Patty Pottle, minister of Labrador and Aboriginal Affairs, didn’t hold on in Torngat Mountains.
Fisheries Minister Clyde Jackman came close to losing his Burin-Placentia West seat. He edged New Democrat Julie Mitchell by just 40 votes.
Dunderdale said her first priority is choosing a cabinet, followed by getting to work on next spring’s budget.
“It’s going to be a busy couple of weeks,” she said.
But not busy enough for Michael, who wasn’t pleased that Dunderdale didn’t plan to open the House for a fall sitting.
“I’m not happy about that delay and I was surprised that the premier even said that before the election was over,” she said, noting they went through the same with Williams in 2007.
With more MHAs in opposition, Dunderdale will face more such criticism over the next four years.
Bring it on, she told reporters.
“I don’t mind questions being asked. I just think it makes for a much healthier House of Assembly.”
As the first female elected to lead the legislature, Dunderdale noted in her speech that she couldn’t help but wonder what her grandmother and great-grandmother would say.
“Til 1925, a woman couldn’t even vote in Newfoundland and Labrador,” she said to applause.
Dunderdale said her pledge as premier is that her government will work tirelessly to ensure Newfoundland and Labrador achieves its “full and incredible potential.”
— With files from Dave Bartlett and James McLeod