Poor Kathy Dunderdale. Turfed out of office in just two years after winning an election. Who would have thought? However, in hindsight we should have seen it coming.
After all, following in the footsteps of the most popular premier in Newfoundland’s history couldn’t have been easy.
Actually, she can thank Danny Williams for sowing the seeds of her eventual downfall.
Danny Williams would be an impossible act to follow. Whoever followed the likeable and charismatic premier was always going to fail the comparison test.
And that’s why no one wanted to be the new Progressive Conservative party leader when Danny Williams retired. His were big shoes to fill.
To her credit, Kathy Dunderdale accepted the job when no one else would. However, what she didn’t foresee was how much Danny Williams’ past decisions would negatively affect her future.
Chickens come home to roost
It was Danny Williams’ government that went on a hiring spree, increasing the civil service by far too much and far too quickly. While there were areas that surely needed increased staffing, there was no need to go on a binge. (We have more employees per capita on the government payroll than any other province in Canada.)
And to make matters worse, Danny Williams decided that all civil servants deserved a significant pay raise.
This was simply not justified (civil servants were doing quite well, thank you very much). There may have been targeted groups that required large increases for retention purposes, etc., but a significant “across the board” increase for all civil servants — no way!
While money may have been flowing in from oil royalties, anyone with half a grain of financial sense should have seen what was bound to eventually happen with such a huge increase in your labour costs.
It took a few years, but the chickens finally came home to roost.
Oil revenues weren’t increasing at the same rate as government expenses and labour costs are a large part of your expenses, therefore, cuts had to be made.
However, it wasn’t Danny Williams who had to make the unpopular decision to lay off civil servants.
It was Kathy Dunderdale.
Firing 1,000 civil servants is never a nice thing to do, but it had to be done. Truth be told, there should probably have been many more that should have been let go.
The unfortunate part here is that they should have never been hired in the first place.
So Kathy Dunderdale takes the hit for something that Danny Williams did. Hardly fair, is it?
Kathy can also thank Danny for giving her Muskrat Falls.
I applaud Danny Williams’ vision on the energy project.
In his second term, he laid the political groundwork for this massive project, which I feel will prove itself in the long run.
While getting the basic agreement with the Nova Scotia government and others in place can be hard work and speaks to Danny Williams’ negotiating ability, the hard slog comes later.
This fell to Kathy Dunderdale — and to her credit, she pursued it like a dog with a bone.
She had to fight off opponents of Muskrat Falls that were against it for political reasons only, other opponents who were sincere but probably misinformed, she had to fight the Public Utilities Board and virtually every journalist and editorial writer in the province, deal with a new Nova Scotia government having second thoughts and, at the same time, curry favour with Stephen Harper for the loan guarantee (against the backdrop of Harper being the most disliked PM in Newfoundland’s history). We can thank Danny in part for that, too.
The hard tough dirty grind to bring this project from concept to construction was done by Kathy Dunderdale, not Danny Williams.
While he had the vision, she’s the one with the strong back.
But I bet you, years from now, when this project is successfully paying dividends as a renewal natural resource, it will be considered Danny’s project.
Kathy Dunderdale has had her own failures to be sure, Bill 29 probably being the biggest.
A more politically astute premier should have recognized this bill, rightly or wrongly, was viewed by everybody in a negative light. She should have realized this, done something about it and moved on.
Instead her stubbornness got in the way of political smarts. It became another nail in her coffin.
I still feel that Kathy Dunderdale was, and is, a very sincere person who had nothing but this province’s interest at heart.
I believe she worked hard and tirelessly for this province and deserves our thanks.
I believe also that she was unfortunately set up for failure.
Poor Kathy Dunderdale.
R.K. Whiteway writes from Mount Pearl.