By Greg Locke
Only three years after becoming Premier and two years since a decisive election victory, Kathy Dunderdale is stepping down as premier of Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada’s most eastern province.
First elected to the province’s legislature in 2003, Dunderdale came to power in November 2010 when Danny Williams’, one of the most popular premiers in Canadian history, stepped down and appointed her as Premier and leader of the province’s Progressive Conservative Party. As leader she won a significant majority in October 2011 over long-time rivals, the Liberal Party, and the up-and-coming, left-of-centre New Democratic Party. This secured her party’s third major election win.
Since then she’s had a fast ride downhill ride. Two years of polling numbers show a trending descent to a current all-time low of 20 percent approval ratings, down from the ludicrous 80 percent afforded her predecessor, Danny Williams. Polls suggest her personal popularity is worse: Dunderdale has been named the least-liked current Canadian premier. This is remarkable considering that Newfoundland and Labrador has one of Canada’s few hot economies, with big revenues coming from the oil and mining industries and their major projects in Labrador and offshore oil on the Grand Banks of Newfoundland in the north Atlantic ocean.
But while politicians, operatives and pundits are all reading the Red Rose tea leaves for the signs, the reality is her manner and tone simply didn’t catch on with the public. Some in the business of politics are saying she just had a communications problem, but the problem is a lot deeper than they are able to think. Communications is just the harbinger of a greater ill.
Despite having record GDP numbers, that “booming economy” is not translating into jobs. The offshore oil industry does not generate many jobs and what goes into government coffers bypasses the local economy on the streets. With the province still recording very high unemployment numbers (officially at 11.1 per cent last month, which misses those who already left or are no longer seeking work), that many are still forced to migrate, mostly to the western provinces of Alberta and British Columbia, is a sore point with the voting population. (See Mexicans With Sweaters – subscriber access).
As the government and business organizations trumpeted the booming economy and the province’s elevation to the coveted Canadian status of a “Have Province,” the citizenry received a mixed and hypocritical message, as the conservative government continued to cut funding for education, health care and the public service.
The final straw in the public’s view seemed to be a recent massive province-wide power blackout and weeks of rolling black-outs that left some 400, 000 people without electricity at one point, not because of extreme weather, but due to poor equipment maintenance planning by Nalcor, a provincial crown energy company. Dunderdale’s seeming lack of concern, compassion or leadership on this issue turned off a lot of people including members of her own party caucus who, facing a general election in less than two years, seemed to be in tune with the public in thinking it was time for a change.
Dunderdale opted to depart before a palace coup.
Another one bites the dust.