Premier Kathy Dunderdale appeared to be fighting back tears as she smiled tightly and gave her farewell speech in the lobby of Confederation Building.
Premier Kathy Dunderdale hugs Health Minister Susan Sullivan after announcing her resignation as premier of Newfoundland and Labrador today at Confederation Building in St. John's. — Photo by Keith Gosse/The Telegram
Dunderdale listed her accomplishments in government, thanked her family and supporters, and then exited quickly, taking no questions.
“Just as you know when it’s time to step up,” she said, “you also know when it is time to step back, and that time for me is now.”
She didn’t offer any specific reasons in her 10-minute speech for why she was leaving, but in the end, she didn’t really need to.
Ever since she took the reins from Danny Williams in 2010 and then won the 2011 general election as the first woman to be premier of Newfoundland and Labrador, Dunderdale has walked a hard political road.
Her popularity took a serious hit when the government introduced Bill 29 in June 2012, a sweeping raft of changes to the access to information law that helped to shut down public disclosure and foster increased secrecy in government.
Then in 2013, her public popularity sank lower when her government introduced a hack-and-slash budget which laid off nearly a thousand civil servants and cut millions of dollars in public spending.
Through the years, she also faced increasing skepticism towards the Muskrat Falls development — her signature public policy priority.
A poll conducted in December showed that Dunderdale was the least popular premier in Canada, and then in January she was widely criticized for poorly handling a week of power disruptions and widespread blackouts.
Stalwart MHA Paul Lane’s decision to cross the floor and join the Liberals on Monday might have hastened the decision, but within the political world, everybody already expected that Dunderdale was preparing for her departure.
On Wednesday morning, she arrived at Confederation Building and met with her caucus before emerging to speak to supporters and members of the media.
Her speech focused on her accomplishments, not only as premier, but as a cabinet minister since the PC party formed the government in 2003.
“On every scale, Newfoundlanders and Labradorians are better off today than when we started,” she said. “We have more jobs, higher incomes, lower taxes, lower public debt, greater capital investment, stronger business confidence, better opportunities and a higher standard of living today than when we came to office.”
She pointed to affordable university tuition, better health care, improved infrastructure, and development in mining, energy and tourism as just a few of her accomplishments.
Finance Minister Tom Marshall will be sworn in on Friday as interim premier, when Dunderdale formally relinquishes the top job.
She will remain on as the MHA for Virginia Waters for at least a little while longer.
Marshall said he believes that Dunderdale will be remembered fondly in the long run, once the dust settles.
“I think history will be a lot kinder to her than the way she’s been treated today,” he said. “She’s a remarkable woman. She’s a remarkable leader. She’s always been passionate about the people and about this province.
“As the first woman premier, it was time that glass ceiling was broken.”
Dunderdale said the PC party will start the ball rolling on picking a new premier within the coming days; Marshall told reporters he has no intention of staying on for the long term.
Dunderdale concluded her speech reflecting on her place in history as the first woman to be elected premier of the province.
“I want to recall the many women of Newfoundland and Labrador who could neither vote or run for office, but did not let that stop them from working tirelessly so women like me could vote, run, serve and lead,” she said.
“As the first woman to serve as premier, I hope I have stoked the fires of imagination in young girls in our province and inspired them to consider running for public office.”