Jerome Kennedy leaves politics to return to law
The decision was made in the summer, discussed with Premier Kathy Dunderdale over several weeks, revealed in rumours and, earlier this week, media reports, before finally being said for all to hear.
Jerome Kennedy announced he was leaving politics Wednesday at a news conference with Premier Kathy Dunderdale. — Photo by Keith Gosse/The Telegram
“I’m leaving politics,” Finance Minister Jerome Kennedy told reporters gathered outside the House of Assembly Wednesday morning. He later added he has no intentions of returning.
His resignation is effective immediately.
A well-known defence lawyer before entering politics, Kennedy was victorious over Liberal Paul Baldwin in the 2007 election, landing the seat as the member of the House of Assembly representing Carbonear-Harbour Grace.
Within the month, he was named Justice minister in the cabinet of then-premier Danny Williams. He would go on to manage a collection of major portfolios during his six-year political career, including Health, Natural Resources and Finance.
Even on the heels of settling tentative collective agreements with the province’s major public-sector unions, while taking questions on his exit from political life, Kennedy admitted to having had difficulty adjusting to the conciliatory requirements of government and transitioning from legal practice, something he says is by nature more directly adversarial.
“There’s a fatigue, but that’s not really the main thing,” he said of his departure from government.
“The longer that you’re away from your profession, the harder it is to go back,” he said.
At one point, Kennedy said he has a Nov. 1 start date set for his return as a lawyer, later saying he is still considering his options — being in talks with ”a number of firms,” as well as considering his own legal practice.
Both he and the premier, who stood at his side through the announcement, said issues relating to the province’s multibillion-dollar hydroelectric project at Muskrat Falls did not drive out the MHA for Carbonear-Harbour Grace.
“Major rackets. … I don’t know what you’d describe as major rackets. We’ve had animated discussions in cabinet,” Kennedy said, when asked about recent reports of disputes with the premier and cabinet.
“We’re passionate about what we do, and we’re A-type personalities,” Dunderdale said. “Do we have disagreements? You betcha.”
She said arguments at the cabinet table are “not new” and part of the business of government when opinions are not stifled.
“I have enormous respect for minister Kennedy. He has brought so much value to the work that we do,” she said, taking a more solemn tone.
“He has served the people of his district and the people of this province extremely well.”
In addition to returning to the practice of law, Kennedy told reporters he plans to begin work on a master’s in law in January, through York University’s Osgoode Hall Law School.
Before ending his time in front of the cameras, he thanked his son, daughter and wife, who, he said, have been supportive throughout his time in politics.
“But I have to say, none of them are sad to see me go,” he said.
After the exit of Kennedy and the premier, Liberal MHA Dwight Ball to took the microphone, recalling tangling with the MHA for Carbonear-Harbour Grace on more than one occasion, as the Liberals’ critic for finance and natural resources.
“So, I’ve had many exchanges with Jerome. He is a very capable guy and his performance in the House (of Assembly) on Muskrat Falls, I think, was something that we all noticed,” he said.
The Liberal leadership candidate said Kennedy will be hard to replace.
“It’s like any team. If you take a star player and you remove that star player, you have big shoes to fill. I don’t really see this right now in the front benches,” he said.
NDP Leader Lorraine Michael is out of the country this week, but NDP MHA Gerry Rogers stood in to take questions on Kennedy’s resignation, while wishing him well.
“I think that Mr. Kennedy, in fact, was a very strong member of the cabinet. He worked hard. He worked particularly hard on some very important portfolios. And I think that he’s going to leave a big hole in that cabinet,” she said.
Rogers added she hopes the premier will call a byelection “earlier rather than later.”
The first step for the Dunderdale government will be a cabinet shuffle. The premier said that can be expected “very quickly” — in the next week to 10 days.
The premier said she will use the opportunity to fulfil a commitment to reduce the number of cabinet positions, but did not rule out inviting new MHAs to the cabinet table as part of the shuffle.
Not because of the polls: Kennedy
Earlier this week, Angus Reid Global released results from a September poll showing Premier Kathy Dunderdale at a 20 per cent approval rating.
In announcing his retirement from politics Wednesday, Finance Minister Jerome Kennedy said the continuing low poll numbers being faced by the Progressive Conservatives did not play a role in his decision to go.
“I’ve seen the way that things change, the ebb and the flow, but we’ve made some good decisions as a government and I am not leaving because of polling results,” he said.
“For me, it’s a question of the time is right, the time is now for me to go and — in fairness to the premier and to the people in the province — there’s an opportunity now for the premier to realign her cabinet, to give people a chance out there. We’ve got a lot of good people in caucus who deserve that opportunity.”
The premier was asked if a departure of a high-profile cabinet member like Kennedy, paired with the latest poll results, might spark a leadership challenge.
Kennedy responded to the question without missing a beat: “From who?”
“We just went through a convention and we have another year before we get a convention again, or there would have to be some special call that would take months, and we received — and I received particularly — a full endorsement from my party,” the premier said, taking the reins in front of reporters at Confederation Building.
“If you’re going to suggest that because we’re low in the polls I should call an election, then surely the logical sequence then is when I do well in the polls I can cancel the election. It doesn’t make any kind of sense.”