Just two and half years after winning a majority government and becoming Newfoundland and Labrador’s first female premier, Kathy Dunderdale is calling it quits.
The Progressive Conservative Premier made it official Wednesday morning, after rumours began circulating feverishly Tuesday night that she was resigning and Finance Minister Tom Marshall would serve as interim premier.
“Just as you know when it is time to step up you know when it is time to step back and that time for me is now,” she said, surrounded by her caucus.
Ms. Dunderdale said she would leave office Friday. She did not give a reason for resigning.
In her announcement she talked about how her government has transformed the province by “placing Newfoundland and Labrador on a secure footing with a proud, prosperous and sustainable future. The progress we have made is undeniable.”
She met with her caucus Wednesday morning in advance of her announcement, cutting short a vacation in Florida.
Ms. Dunderdale cited the massive Muskrat Falls hydroelectric agreement as a big achievement for her government. “Most importantly on every scale Newfoundlanders and Labradorians are better off today than when we started.”
She noted that the province is leading the country in economic growth.
Under provincial law, Ms. Dunderdale’s resignation triggers an election earlier than the fixed date of October 13th, 2015. An election must now be held within a year of the new full-time party leader taking office as premier.
Ms. Dunderdale, 61, was part of the new wave of female politicians taking over as provincial premier, along with B.C., Alberta, Ontario and Quebec.
First elected to the House of Assembly in 2003, Ms. Dunderdale became deputy premier, serving under Danny Williams, in October 2008.
In December 2010, she was sworn in as the province’s first female premier, replacing Mr. Williams. But she did not face the electorate until the general election in 2011 where she won a majority.
Mr. Williams was Newfoundland and Labrador’s darling – the superstar political communicator who picked fights with the federal government, most famously with the Harper Tories during the 2008 election over what he saw as a broken promise on equalization payments. Urging Newfoundlanders to vote “Anything but Conservative”, the Tories were shut out from the province in that campaign.
Mr. Williams proved a hard act to follow and Ms. Dunderdale appeared to be in his shadow. Her communication skills were not as savvy as her predecessor's. She was criticized for what some said was an underwhelming response to the recent rolling black-outs in the province, which lasted over a number of days, and that is believed to have contributed to her decision to step down.
MHA Paul Lane, who defected from the Tories to the opposition Liberals earlier this week, criticized her for being “nowhere to be found” during power outages that began Jan. 2.
But even before that, Ms. Dunderdale’s leadership was in question. In 2011, she was considered one of the most popular premiers in the country, running just behind Saskatchewan’s Premier Brad Wall in a national poll.
But that changed – recent polls have her Progressive Conservative government trailing the Liberals and their newly-elected leader Dwight Ball.
There was speculation before Christmas about whether she would contest the October 2015 election. In year-end interviews last month, however, Ms. Dunderdale said she would be running in the 2015 campaign and that she was not guided or influenced by public opinion polls.
She had worked hard to finalize the $7.7-billion Muskrat Falls hydroelectric project, announcing in December that the province had completed the federal loan guarantee that helped with the financing of the project.
Just last May, she revealed in a speech to St. John’s Board of Trade that the talks over the loan guarantee almost collapsed after former prime ministerial chief of staff Nigel Wright, who became nvolved in the Senate spending scandal, tried to tie the granting of the $1-billion loan guarantee to concessions on fish-processing rules.
She told her audience that she “smacked the phone down” and that Mr. Wright’s ears may be still ringing. In the end, she won that battle and Primer Minister Stephen Harper flew to Newfoundland and Labrador for the announcement.
With a report from The Canadian Press