Embattled Newfoundland Premier Kathy Dunderdale announces her retirement

Andy Radia
Politics Reporter
Canada Politics

After several tumultuous months of caucus defections, a slide in the polls and intense criticism of how she handled the most recent weather crisis, Newfoundland Premier Kathy Dunderdale has called it quits.

Cutting her Florida vacation short, Dunderdale returned to the legislature, on Wednesday morning, to explain her decision to her Tory caucus.

She then delivered a prepared statement to the media.

"Ancient Hebrew scriptures teach us that there is a time for everything and a season for every activity under the heavens. I have discovered that this also applies to public service. Just as you know when it's time to step up, you also know when it is time to step back and that time for me is now," Dunderdale said noting that she will officially step down as of this Friday.

"As the first woman to serve as premier, I hope I have stoked the fire of imagination of young girls in our province and have inspired them to consider running for public office."

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Dunderdale was first elected to the Newfoundland and Labrador legislature in 2003. After serving in various posts in the Danny Williams cabinet she took over the party's leadership in 2010 and led the party to victory in the 2011 general election.

In December 2012, she was the most popular premier in the country with an approval rating of 71.4 per cent; in the latest Angus Reid popular premier survey, she was the least popular premier with a rating of just 24 per cent.

What happened in just one year?

Dunderdale's fall from grace began in late 2012, when MHA Tom Osborne left the Tories to sit as an Independent citing concerns about Dunderdale's leadership.

That, coupled with some unpopular policy choices — such as a bill 29 which tightened access to information rules — led to a decline in the polls culminating in a November 2013 byelection loss in a traditionally Tory-stronghold.

Dunderdale's tipping point, however, may have come earlier this week when Tory MHA Paul Lane crossed the floor to the Liberals complaining about the way the premier handled the rolling power blackouts during the province's recent extreme weather conditions.

"While I was out and about in my district visiting warming centres, checking on seniors, regularly conversing with our mayor, speaking to people and answering questions as best I could, and updating people via social media, the premier was, once again, nowhere to be found," Lane told reporters, according to CBC News.

"To make matters worse, two or three days later, when the premier finally decided to speak to the people, instead of demonstrating empathy for all those negatively impacted by the blackouts, the focus of the news conference centred around whether or not the situation, by definition, was a crisis."

Before Dunderdale's press conference on Wednesday, former cabinet minister Paul Oram told CBC News that Dunderdale's main problem was her communication style.

"Kathy's biggest issue has always been that the communications part of her mandate has never been received well," Oram said.

"You can be the best leader in the world but the reality is that if the people are not accepting you as leader, and you just can't resonate with the people, then you can’t be leader of the party and leader of the province."

Finance Minister Tom Marshall will replace Dunderdale in an interim roll.

As per the province's Elections Act, a general election must be called within one year of the swearing-in of a new premier.

(Photo courtesy of the Canadian Press)

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