Doing it her way

Steve Bartlett
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Premier Kathy Dunderdale sits at the premier’s desk in Confederation Building Friday afternoon just a little over a week after her election to the post. — Photo by Keith Gosse/The Telegram

Businessman Dean MacDonald might be testing the political waters, but Kathy Dunderdale isn’t worried about the splash he might make.

“His party needed him three months ago, where was he? His party needs him now, where is he? (The year) 2014 might be an opportunity for Dean MacDonald,” she says sarcastically.

“The boys might be back in town 2014, 2015. Sounds like the Liberal way of doing things. I stay focused on the people of the province. That’s where I need to be. I get amused sometimes by the shenanigans that go on over there. I’ll be here in 2015. Come on.”

The premier made the comments Friday in a wide-ranging interview about the first days of her new term.

Listening to her, it’s obvious she’s had more on her mind than MacDonald’s undeclared interest in leading the Grits.

Since her historic election Oct. 11, Dunderdale’s been building a political cabinet, catching up on the work that piled up during the campaign, and getting her head around what’s next.

“It’s been a really, really busy time,” she says, sitting relaxed in a soft-covered chair in the premier’s office.

Asked what’s next — about where she wants to take the province — Dunderdale says Newfoundland and Labrador is at a pivotal place because the economy is in transition, from being based on non-renewable resources to being centred around renewable resources.

Expect that to be a major focus of her government over the next four years.

“We’ve still got a piece of work to do around Muskrat Falls (hydro-electric project) in particular,” she says, “and we continue to consider what we’re going to do with gas development, and with wind and so on.”

The fishery is another renewable resource that can expect attention from the Dunderdale government.

She says she’s willing to do what she can to help the troubled industry find its way. She hopes the sector’s players are willing to do the same.

Another focus for government will be encouraging young people to stay in the province and have families.

“So that means we talk about education, we talk about health care, we talk about infrastructure and recreation, but also keeping a keen eye on the opportunities that are created here for employment. How do we make sure people are ready to engage in those opportunities?”

Dunderdale says those are kinds of topics she’s been discussing since the election and now it’s time to prioritize an agenda and put ministers in place to drive the priorities.

She’ll “probably” name her cabinet next week, after the new MHAs are sworn-in. She is holding the cards close to her chest, and doesn’t bite when asked things like, “Will Clyde Jackman remain in fisheries?”

“I’m not going to have a bigger cabinet,” she allows, alluding to her fiscal philosophy. “I like the whole concept of lean, mean, governance.”

Dunderdale, daughter of a fisherman and part of a large family, illustrates how this mindset has roots in her upbringing. She says always knew when a tax bill came.

“I came from a family where if you had to pay $200 income tax or municipal taxes, it was a bite out of the family income.”

She continues, saying that $200 out of an almost $8 billion budget might not seem like a lot, but she always thinks about how important $200 is to those who don’t have much.

“So I think we need to be as responsible with the $200 as we are with the $200 million. So (government needs to be) lean, efficient, able to do what it needs to do to fulfill its mandate, but the leaner the better.”

Dunderdale doesn’t agree with those who suggest government spending is out of control. In last year’s budget, she notes, new spending was around two per cent.

“We’re going to try to reduce it even further,” she says.

Dunderdale also speaks about the opposition’s critique of her decision not to open the House of Assembly (see story page A8.) And she talks about why MHAs will get to discuss, but not vote on, Muskrat Falls in the legislature.

“There’s no expertise in the House, that I’m aware of, that would be able to determine that everything about this project is what it ought to be,” she says, adding critique of the project in the House to date has “not been informed by any expertise that I’m aware of at all.”

According to Dunderdale, the process the province uses for project development — which was followed on the Hebron project and is being used for Muskrat Falls — relies on the expertise of hired professionals and external audits to ensure the right decisions are made.

“That’s a very well-informed process,” she says.

While the early days after her election has come with expected criticism from the opposition, it’s also been filled with support and optimism.

One of the most wonderful surprises about being premier, Dunderdale says, is the effect on other females.

She tells the story of a meeting a woman who teared up on election night. The woman’s husband apparently asked why she was crying when she didn’t even know the premier.

“And she said, ‘it’s not about her. It’s about the fact there is a woman premier of this province, so many more things are possible now.’”

Dunderdale says the younger generation is learning that too.

When a young girl comes to her and says, “That’s Kathy Dunderdale,” she says she knows the child’s view of the world has changed.

“She now thinks that she could sit in that chair. She will grow up with that as part of her consciousness, that a women could be premier. And if a woman can be premier of this province, she can be pretty much whatever else she wants to be ... For me, that is one of the best things that’s happened out of all this.” Twitter: bartlett_steve

Geographic location: Muskrat Falls, Newfoundland and Labrador, Hebron

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Recent comments

  • PC
    October 24, 2011 - 07:33

    If the Premier wants a "Lean and mean governance" she should start by getting rid of 30% of the workers at the confederation building who are only employed because someone they know contributed to PC campains.

  • Frank Evely sr
    October 24, 2011 - 06:26


  • Cyril Rogers
    October 22, 2011 - 22:34

    Ms Dunderdale is speaking out of both sides of her mouth again with regard to being prudent with our dollars. She had absolutely no problems splashing it around prior to the election. As for her assertion that there is no expertise in the House capable of properly critiquing the Mskrat Falls deal, what a crock of you know what! It is clear that she doesn't care to hear other perspectives because, when the government's own Environmental Review Panel told her the project was flawed, she summarily dismissed it out of hand. When Navigant sanctioned it, based on NALCOR's flawed reasoning that the ERP rejected, they were suddenly the experts we should listen to. Why? Feed garbage in and you will get garbage out! The energy landscape is changing daily so it would be wise for Ms Dunderdale to slow down before going down in the history of this province as the Premier who oversaw the worst deal ever, other than the Upper Churchill. A bad deal on the Upper Churchill should make us pause and reconsider. After all, two prior efforts to develop the Lower Churchill went by the wayside. My respect for her would go up a lot if she were at least open to giving this careful consideration, allowing a full debate in the house, allowing a free vote, and giving the poeple of the province the opportunity to vote by way of referendum. Of course, none of us have enough expertise to make a reasoned choice so that won't happen. The Premier and her party shoul keep in mind that we, the taxpayers and ratepayers, will have to pay for this project. If she gets it wrong, the fiscal hangovers will still haunt us long after she is gone!

  • sam
    October 22, 2011 - 16:19

    You are right Premier...where was MacDonald awhile ago? His excuse is he couldn't leave his job...yeah right! He is waiting for the Liberals to finish their infighting and then walse right in. Well i think people are smarter than that. Note to are no Danny Williams. Keep on doing what you are doing Premier. Danny Williams was a hard act to follow but you are doing fine. I think it is awesome that you have a different has been refreshing for this province. You were given a majority mandate to do your best. GO FOR IT! Do it your way!

  • Bill
    October 22, 2011 - 12:03

    Her first front page spread in the Telegram as Premier of the Province and the first couple of paragraphs are a sarcastic response with respect to the Liberal Party and a potential future leader. Guess the sarcasm goes with the arrogance shown during the campaign. Way to go Premier! Keep the House closed as you have nothing planned for the fall setting. What about the 120 day promise re the Health care issue? Forgotten about that already?

  • Benny
    October 22, 2011 - 11:05

    Kathy has simply got to get off the "piece" and the "investment" lingo. They are totally overused and boring. Plus "investment" is not even used in proper definition. There is no ROI on a bridge or a road.....unless there is going to be a "toll" for using it. I am suprized her handlers have not corrected her on this yet.

  • Moe St.Cool
    October 22, 2011 - 10:47

    "“His party needed him three months ago, where was he? His party needs him now, where is he? (The year) 2014 might be an opportunity for Dean MacDonald,” she says sarcastically." Even Danny was never that obnoxious.

  • happy female
    October 22, 2011 - 09:22

    go for it kathy. your level headed and learning as you go. you had a wonderful teacher in your predecessor but you certainly have learned to stand on your own two feet. you are doing a great job and we are proud of you. keep up the great work.

  • Mark
    October 22, 2011 - 08:59

    2 things stand out with the Liberal party right now:, the fact that none of the current caucus will not give up their seat to give Kevin Aylward a chance to run and get a seat in the House; so, would anyone give up their seat for Dean MacDonald? MHA Eddie Joyce did it for both Clyde wells and Brian Tobin, but won't do it for Kevin but he encourages Dean MacDonald to run. The public is smarter than that.

  • Charles
    October 22, 2011 - 08:24

    The Pc are no great hope for N.L...Thay are out to put us back fifty years...And the Liberal Party...the way they are going...they won't be around for the next election...Who is lift one...But Danny coat tails...from 2003.

  • Maurice E. Adams
    October 22, 2011 - 08:20

    To be fair, Pemier, the Review Panel, a panel that your government supported, participated in, approved of, and recognized as 'expert', is one such 'independent' and 'expert' group that has advised this government. ++++++ Show us, Madam Premier, that you can not only talk the talk, but walk the walk. ++++++ Muskrat Falls is a shell game that gets its massive revenues (taxes really) from NL ratepayers. +++++++ That is the only way that this project can be construed as ---- a 'good business case'. +++++ While it may be needed somewhere down the road, it will still be there at that time, when there really is a demand. Even Nalcor forecasts no increase in demand by industrial users past 2014 and while they rely on a forecast increased demand from residential customers, residential demand went down last year a further 95 GWh and our population is expected to go down right through the available forecast period up to 2025. ++++++ Nalcor has made this "look" affordable to us because they changed the electricity generation costing process from a "Cost of Service" approach to an "escalating supply pricing" approach (spread out over a 50 year period and escalating --- for Newfoundland ratepayers only --- at 2% per year). +++++ That approach, Madam Premier, keeps cost to us down --- but does so by spreading it out to our children and grand children. Revenues (taxes on Newfoundlanders really) keep rising significantly so that they reach over $1 billion/year and rising 35 years down the road. ++++ How many caring parents, in order to get their overpriced, desired house now, would arrange their financing in such a way that their children and grand children will have to pay off the mortgage --- and do so at astronomical and steadily rising revenue/tax rates? +++++ Madam Premier, and with respect, Nalcor's mandate is not to surreptitiously raise taxes for government --- but to provide a "need" (electricity) to our --- to YOUR, citizens --- at the 'lowest possible cost'. Maurice E. Adams, Paradise

  • Puzzled
    October 22, 2011 - 07:53

    If something 'increased' by 2% last year, how can you 'reduce' it even further?