It was only a matter of time, of course, before Jerome Kennedy confirmed the numerous reports swirling around St. John’s that he was about to evacuate the foundering ship Dunderdale.
The only real question was whether he would be diplomatic while confirming he was scampering into a lifeboat and paddling back to the safety and security of a lucrative law practice, saying all the right things to avoid putting even more cement in Capt. Kathy Dunderdale’s deck shoes, or whether he would be characteristically blunt and leave no doubt he was sick and tired of following an obviously failed leadership.
As it turned out, it was the former, and no great surprise there; politicians, unless they’ve been screwed royally by their leader or someone else in the party, are not inclined to drown someone of their own litter.
But even if Kennedy was relatively generous in tone, there can be no doubt about the impact his resignation will have on Dunderdale’s credibility.
It doesn’t take in-depth perception to recognize that it’s not as if the likes of Kevin O’Brien, Paul Davis, Terry French or one of the many other small-timers in cabinet is calling it quits — this cabinet will never be mistaken for a group blocked with intellectual and politically astute heavyweights. Dunderdale could probably cope with and survive those sorts of resignations (the departure of some — O’Brien, for instance — might even be seen as a blessing).
This, however, is Jerome Kennedy, arguably the most powerful and highest-profiled minister among Dunderdale’s tablemates, a very bright man with the disposition of a street fighter — an effective combination for anyone seeking political success; a cabinet minister who was seriously viewed as a successor to his political mentor, Danny Williams, a fellow lawyer largely responsible for convincing him to enter politics in the first place.
As well, this isn’t me or some other columnist or pundit raising questions about Dunderdale’s leadership (I’ve never been convinced that the public is influenced to a great extent when an editorial, commentary or column tears a politician to shreds or calls for his or her head to be delivered on a platter).
And it’s not the Liberals or the NDP in this case wondering about Dunderdale’s ability to govern; they do that constantly anyway because that’s what’s they’re supposed to do. They’re Antichrists by the very nature of their legislative function; they’re paid to be contrary. Mother Teresa would have gotten a rough ride if she was a governing Tory in the Newfoundland House of Assembly (I could just imagine the investigative queries: “A question for Mother Teresa, Mr. Speaker: Does the Honourable Sister have any dirty habits?”)
So no one really cares when the opposition calls for the premier to step down.
But this is the minister of finance raising doubts, by implication at the very least, about Dunderdale’s ability to properly manage the affairs of Newfoundland. It certainly won’t go unnoticed by the voting public, and that’s an understatement.
If it were merely a personality clash, then Dunderdale could probably ride it out. A CBC report claimed the premier and Kennedy had engaged in a shouting match while on a trade mission to China, but that’s not necessarily a big deal. Politicians with the same party affiliation can be childish and argue and call each other foul names. And Kennedy has a short fuse and his unedited approach to the courtroom and politics is legendary. He can be a crackie, with the motto: “leave no ankle un-gnawed.”
But I would suggest this tiff runs much deeper than the odd verbal scrap.
And I’d suggest further that most observers would logically conclude that Kennedy didn’t like what he was seeing, and that he decided to get out while he could still hold his head high. At least that will be the public perception; Kennedy’s explanation that his exit from politics had nothing to do with a discontent with Dunderdale or a philosophical racket will fall on mostly deaf ears.
And in politics, as they say, perception is reality.
You couldn’t help but notice, as well, unless you’ve pulled a Rip Van Winkle this week, that speculation about Kennedy’s departure came at a time when Dunderdale was being told by respected Canadian pollsters that she is stinking up the Canadian political landscape, that she’s now the least popular premier in the country.
And there’s only so far you can take the argument, use the spin, that she’s had difficulties because she’s been constantly compared to her successor, a politician who was, according to the polls, the most popular premier in the country (the near unqualified adulation people felt for Dan the Man was perfectly nauseating at times, and inherently unhealthy, but the fact remains: he was St. Daniel, infallible Pope Daniel to his apostles, and Dunderdale had to fill “The Shoes of the Fisherman”).
But she’s had more than enough time to build her own platform, establish a distinct philosophy that would have shown her fellow Newfoundlanders that, although she might not have the charisma of a Danny Williams, she could be effective in governing this smiling, shining land of ours.
But she’s a flop; Newfoundlanders do not trust her with their future.
Anecdotal evidence tells us that Dunderdale, in years past, has been known as an intelligent person, a caring person, someone with a social conscience.
But somewhere along the way, she’s gotten lost. She seems unsure of herself. She hardly exudes confidence when explaining her government’s policies. And worst of all, her communication skills are terrible.
Now her main man, Jerome Kennedy, is walking.
And the public is left to wonder: is the minister who carried
the Muskrat Falls banner highly
and proudly now having second thoughts about the way in which that multibillion-dollar project is progressing?
Does this government’s near-unprecedented focus on secrecy
sit well with a man with a reputation for saying exactly what he thinks, and to hell with the consequences?
Whatever his rationale for jumping ship in mid-voyage — we may never know the full story — the bottom line is that a minister of immense stature is quitting on Dunderdale, and her status with the public will take still another pounding.
It’s the last thing she needs.
Bob Wakeham has spent more than 40 years as a journalist in Newfoundland and Labrador. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.