© Labradorian file photo
NL Premier Kathy Dunderdale
Kathy Dunderdale, your race is run. You may not know it yet — you may not even want to believe it — but it’s over.
Take the small successes that have come with a long political career and get off the stage — or else run the real risk of driving your entire party over an electoral cliff.
That’s a hard message for any politician, especially one who can look back and see a set of successes that might well be all it would take to get a different person elected.
And there have been successes: Dunderdale will go down in history as this province’s first elected female premier, and her work in making sure social issues found their way to the fore for government should not be underestimated. She led a party to government after the resignation of a popular and charismatic leader, and, if you have had the opportunity to meet with her, you’ll know she’s quick, attentive, aware and on the top of her game when it comes to issues involving the province.
There have also been mammoth missteps, missteps that are all the more obvious because they come back to the same base cause.
Two of the worst? First, the administration’s tragic and constant lockstep support for Bill 29, the legislation the government introduced to tighten up controls over the ability of citizens to get information from government.
Second, the tone set by Dunderdale herself, both in the House of Assembly and at public events, where the singular message was that the provincial cabinet knows best, and that it (and Dunderdale, for that matter) are neither interested nor willing to accept input from others, no matter how educated and well thought out those other opinions might be.
Those two failures — like many others in the current administration — come back to a confused interpretation of what it means to be open and accountable.
The current government views itself as a good communicator — but that communication is remarkably one-way, along the lines of “If you need to know something for your own good, we will tell you it. But we decide when and how to tell you.”
Lost in that message is the two-way travel of real communication and openness — one is conversation, the other, mere dictation.
Take any issue from Muskrat Falls on down, and ask yourself if you’ve been engaged in the discussion, or merely told what you should think.
The problem is that the good points of the Dunderdale administration, sadly, are not enough — because, under Dunderdale’s current leadership, her party is absolutely tanking at the polls. That same party is running out of time to show it can put the brakes to the slide and show a new face to voters in time to change their minds.
There are little messages out there about the depth of the problem that are hard to miss: caucus members who are even willing to complain about the voters, saying things like, “Don’t they see all the things we’re doing?” That alone shows a fundamental disconnect, one common to long-serving governments. It doesn’t matter if the voter is wrong, because, in the end, the voter, like the customer, is always right.
Thursday’s Corporate Research Associates poll results are only a dismal icing on tragic cake: when 64 per cent of the province’s voters are dissatisfied with government, when the PC party is a distant third and still sliding (despite a summer of good-news announcements and spending), there has to be something worth listening to.
There are leaders who have managed to come back from worse situations — but think about this: in the latest round of polling, Dunderdale’s personal popularity is neck and neck with the leader of the Liberal party. And, just in case you didn’t know it, the Liberals don’t have a leader right now.
Imagine if you were polling just one point ahead of an empty chair.
You might get the message.
Clearly, though, it hasn’t sunk in yet. The Tories haven’t found the gumption to give their leader the boot, and their leader is apparently living in a Never-Never Land where winning a 2015 election actually seems like a possibility.
Can Dunderdale stay on and hope against hope that she can turn things around?
Should she? No.
As hard as it is, hang up your shoes and make the most dignified exit you can. You can keep running, but the race truly is already over.
Russell Wangersky is The Telegram’s editorial page editor. He can be reached by email at email@example.com.