“Media Advisory: Premier to Make Announcement — The Honourable Kathy Dunderdale, Premier of Newfoundland and Labrador, will make an announcement today (Wednesday, January 22) at 10:30 a.m. in the main lobby of Confederation Building, East Block.”
As epitaphs on political careers go, it was almost fitting: a dollar short and half a day late. By the time the announcement came out, every news media in the province had already been reporting Premier Kathy Dunderdale’s imminent resignation for hours.
As expected, Dunderdale announced she would be stepping down on Friday, leaving Finance Minister Tom Marshall to hold the fort until the Tories can select a new leader.
Did Dunderdale have achievements? Of course she did. Even as she was resigning, she listed scores of measures the Tories have brought forward, ranging from maintaining post-secondary tuition freezes to the poverty reduction strategy to moving ahead with Muskrat Falls. After listing them, she spoke of her resignation as being a personal decision, saying that people recognize when there’s a time to step up, but also when it’s time “to step away.”
Missing from the speech was any clearly stated understanding of why, if the present and the future are so bright, voters have said, in poll after poll — including two byelections — that they are not convinced. And, sadly, that’s perhaps the most important thing the Tories should be taking from the events of the last few weeks.
Buoyed by record oil profits, the Tories — from Danny Williams on — have been in a unique position to take credit for deals they didn’t make and put dollars in places where they were urgently needed. Now, after massive increases in spending, the province has returned to deficit budgets and is anticipating increasing the province’s debt.
But even that hasn’t been the issue that has turned voters away.
Like it or not, a lot of the problems come down to something as simple as leadership style.
Bad communications advice along the way certainly hasn’t helped. As complaints began to surface about everything from the secrecy of Bill 29 to the electrical power debacle of several weeks ago, Dunderdale has managed to appear imperious, stubborn and uncaring — not in any way her true nature, according to people who know her well, but her public image nonetheless. She is extremely personable one-on-one — challenged in public, she is anything but.
You can’t help but feel bad for a skilled, long-term politician who has shown that she is more than capable of handling virtually any cabinet portfolio the province had to offer. Kathy Dunderdale, after all, was picked as interim premier after Williams left precisely because of her skills (and, not inconsequentially, because she had no intention of running for the top job).
Political leaders have it tough in this new world — they have to be good at so many things.
They have to be strong without appearing
dismissive, decisive without being arrogant, sharp-witted without being needlessly sharp-tongued.
More than anything else, the message from this resignation should be that politicians have to be careful to keep their ears attuned to the public’s will. A tin ear for the tone of the public discussion is, and will continue to be, a fatal flaw.