Former Liberal minister, mayors react to Dunderdale resignation

Shawn Hayward
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"She had big shoes to fill" says Bonavista Mayor

“She had big shoes to fill stepping in for Danny Williams at the time,” said Betty Fitzgerald, the mayor of Bonavista, when asked about the resignation today of Premier Kathy Dunderdale.

Premier Kathy Dunderdale speaks to guests at a chamber of commerce dinner in Arnold’s Cove on June 10.

“Everybody was expecting her to be exactly like him and no two people in this world are alike.”

The Packet contacted several local current and former politicians to get their reactions to Dunderdale announcing she would leave the role of premier after a little over three years in office.

Fitzgerald said she thinks Dunderdale, who became premier after Williams stepped down in 2010, faced a challenge when replacing the extremely popular former premier. One poll had Williams with a 67 per cent approval rating when he left, the highest in the country. An Angus Reid poll in January put Dunderdale’s support at 24 per cent, the lowest of any premier in Canada.

She added that former premier Roger Grimes faced a similar problem when he stepped in to replace Brian Tobin.

“When someone steps down, whoever goes in place has got a lot of things to move on, and do it fast, and it’s impossible to do,” said Fitzgerald. “I think that’s what happened there. I think she tried to fill his shoes and do what he would do, and maybe it’s not what he would have done. Sometimes things goes wrong in politics.”

Being a woman in politics adds extra pressure, according to Fitzgerald, who has been mayor of Bonavista for 16 years and on council for 24. A lot has changed since she entered politics, but not everything.

“Over the years, it was always men in politics, then all of a sudden a woman comes on the scene, and she’s got to work twice as hard,” Fitzgerald said. “There’s a lot on her shoulders.”

But Fitzgerald says Dunderdale made some mistakes. She feels she didn’t listen to voters as much as she should have.

“When someone comes up to you on the street and complains to you, listen to what they’re saying,” said Fitzgerald. “I know there are some things you can’t do, but you’ve got to try your best.”

Tom Marshall will step in as interim leader until a new premier is chosen. Fitzgerald says she’s eager to work with whoever takes leadership of the provincial government.

Some of the things she wants the province to focus on include help for seniors. She says seniors have come to her complaining about changes to the province’s dental plan. Now they have to pay for more of the work, and that stretches the budgets of pensioners on a fixed income. The costs of things like electricity are also going up, according to Fitzgerald.

Mayor Donald Burt of Trinity Bay North says Dunderdale’s announcement came as a complete surprise to him. He says he’s unsure what will come of the change, but he hopes his town will get more help to recover from the loss of its shrimp plant; it closed permanently in 2011 after a year-long hiatus.

“We need some development in rural Newfoundland, with the way the fishery is going, that has to be part of it, and they should be looking at other aspects,” he said. “To open channels, accessibility, greater degree of involvement with the community, letting us know what’s available and when it’s available.”

Kay Young, a former minister in the Clyde Wells government of the 90s who now lives in Morley’s Siding, agrees that it’s hard being a woman in politics. Dunderdale was Newfoundland and Labrador’s first female premier.

“Women have to work twice as hard as men to be accepted,” she said. “Men have had many years of being leaders, while women, it’s only been the last 100 years that we’ve gradually gained momentum, and there’s still a glass ceiling out there, regardless of what the younger generations feel.”

Young says she thinks Dunderdale meant well but didn’t communicate to the public effectively, and Bill 29 started the decline that led to today’s resignation. Bill 29 gave the province increased power’s to restrict access to information and was passed in 2012.

“Whether it was the bureaucrats not giving her the information, I have no idea, but something went off the rails, and Bill 29 was the beginning, and her determination to push Muskrat Falls. It may be a good deal. I don’t know. I’m sure there are some good aspects of it but then again the information wasn’t getting out to us.”

Young is still an active member of the Liberal Party and says she has faith in Dwight Ball, who was elected Liberal leader in the fall, to challenge whoever leads the PC Party into the next election.

“I certainly wish Kathy Dunderdale the best in whatever she pursues. She tried very hard and maybe she wasn’t getting the right advice,” said Young.

“(Ball) exercises diplomacy. He’s not one to shoot from the hip without thinking. I have nothing but respect for the man and his ability to lead us into the next election.”

Organizations: Liberal Party, PC Party

Geographic location: Canada, Bonavista, Newfoundland and Labrador Trinity Bay North Morley

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