The premier needs a charisma boost

Gerry Phelan
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Why don’t more of us like Kathy Dunderdale? A convenience store clerk suggested the media is being unfair in its coverage of the Dunderdale government, that we tear the premier down because she’s a woman.

I had casually raised the issue as I flipped through last Friday’s Telegram, and pointed to the editorial cartoon of an angry cat and the words, “Katty Dunderdale, Boo Hiss!” The clerk didn’t share my amusement.

Now, before the rants start that I’m sexist, take a deep breath. I am not picking on our premier because she’s a woman.

In fact, I’m not picking on her at all. It’s just now that Dunderdale has said publicly that she fully intends to lead her party into the next election, perhaps she’d welcome some advice.

Dunderdale took the reins of this province at a time when governing should have been easy. There are more people working, most making better money, and on April 28 last year, then finance minister Tom Marshall was quoted by the CBC as saying,

“We are flush with cash. Our financial position is the strongest it’s ever been.”

But even then, the approval numbers were falling. They’ve been headed downward ever since. The latest Angus Reid survey gave Dunderdale a 25 per cent approval rating.

The toughest blow is probably the 73 per cent disapproval, and the survey was conducted before the austerity budget.

Today, there’s a Facebook site with more than 2,000 members titled “Kathy Dunderdale Must Go.” A recent Question of the Day by VOCM on whether Dunderdale should step down before the next election  prompted more than 13,000 votes. The Tory poll-fixers were obviously outgunned that day, as more than

90 per cent voted yes.

 Muskrat Falls, the issue that has dogged the government since it was re-elected in October 2011, can’t be the reason for the disapproval. A  poll found most people are in favour of the project.

So what is causing people to view Dunderdale and her government with distaste?

The answer is simple: attitude and approach.

We have seen what often appears to be an arrogant, insensitive government, failing to communicate that their actions are in our best interests.

In the legislature and in media scrums, Dunderdale’s approach has appeared combative. I’d be interested in seeing what would happen if she toned that down and allowed people to see her the way those closest to her do.

At the PC convention last October, Tom Marshall suggested most people don’t know the real Kathy Dunderdale.

A Telegram story by reporter James McLeod quoted Marshall as saying, “But how well do people really get to know another human being based on the brief images and the sound bites that make up the evening news?”

Better late than never. If there is a calmer, less aggressive Dunderdale, now’s the time to bring her out. Let’s see the charisma that will help people like and trust the premier.

The same goes for cabinet ministers who show up on television with all-knowing smirks, but then days later have to backtrack on their positions.

It’s not about looks. It’s not about gender. It’s about how you carry yourselves, how you present yourselves. It’s the whole package; a presence.

The premier told NTV’s “Issues and Answers” she is not feeling any pressure to step down. She said she has tremendous support from the caucus and the party.

Well, it may not stay that way as we move closer to the next trip to the polling booth. A few byelection losses could cause some nervousness in the backrooms.

I know it’s a long time between now and 2015.

Time will tell if Dunderdale gets to enjoy her Sally Field Oscar moment, and can look out on the crowd to say:

“The first time I didn’t feel it, but this time I feel it. And I can’t deny the fact that you like me, right now, you like me!”

She can’t say that now. At least not yet.

Gerry Phelan is a journalist and former broadcaster.

He can be reached at

Organizations: CBC, Tory

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Recent comments

  • Frank Tock
    April 21, 2013 - 14:57

    Mr. Phelan, you cannot "boost" charisma. You either have it, or you don't.

  • Skeptical Cynic
    April 21, 2013 - 09:47

    I, and I suspect many other NLers, lost all respect for Dunderdale during the Burton Winters saga. The “leadership” demonstrated by Dunderdale during that time... when the Winters family and indeed the people of Labrador needed leadership the most... was abysmal to say the least. To top that off, along comes the Dunderdale Regime’s version of the Official Secrets Act, Bill 29, and this while the constituency spending allowance scandal was still fresh in the minds of NLers. I interpreted that as a wanton disregard for the principle of transparent and accountable governance, so that was the last straw for me, and probably many others as well. It became painfully obvious that Dunderdale and her handlers were way out of their depth. So here we are... if this individual stays on as her party’s leader, the Tories will be lucky to get in with a minority come the next election.

  • willy
    April 20, 2013 - 09:00

    It's getting to the point now that I can't wait for the next news broadcast to find out what blunder the Dunderdale govt has committed.

  • ceyoung
    April 19, 2013 - 15:25

    Bullying comes in many different forms, I think referring to someone as to; a) "comes from the wrong side of the tracks" or b) "fitting wheels on a tomato". The funniest thing is that you probably brag about your comments to other people and think its all right. There sure are some class acts around. Have a nice day. :)

  • Stephen D Redgrave
    Stephen D Redgrave
    April 19, 2013 - 10:59

    Kathy Dunderdale is without question, a great person, kind, loving and caring for Newfoundland as an individual, but events of the past 30 days has shown us all that "The waters around Newfoundland are going to get pretty rough" . This quote (not verbatim) was the eye opener for me. It's not a matter of gender as I have great faith in in the empowerment of women in our society, Kathy truly does not belong in a position of authority. She appears to get flustered and easily intimidated, responding to mild conflicts in a savage, misrepresenting manner not consistent with good leadership. We don't need a Premier who acts like a teenager from the wrong side of the tracks. Hands down.........she's out!

  • Chantal
    April 19, 2013 - 07:36

    Boosting Dunderdale's charisma would be like fitting wheels to a tomato: time-consuming and completely useless.