Premier Dunderdale’s resignation was not a question of ‘if’ but ‘when’. If the decision had not been made now, following her unwise and unsympathetic response to the power “crises”, it most certainly would have been made after the House of Assembly closed in the spring.
The Premier’s loss of popularity began shortly after the 2011 General Election and the decline likely descended to a new low as the acrimony of the power outages unfolded. At the best of times it is tough to build on an approval rating nearing 20%. It is especially hard when fall-out continues from policies like Muskrat Falls, Bill 29, successive huge deficits, and an inability to recognize mutual respect as important mark of leadership.
How could the Premier command confidence when hugely important public policies were subject to the dictates of Nalcor, a Crown Corporation and its CEO Ed Martin, without as much as Department of Finance oversight? The very idea of such a derogation of duty is repugnant within any context of ‘Responsible Government’.
Even if one were to give the event a most generous appraisal, the resignation of the Province’s first female Premier, after only 27 months, is a disappointment. Most people, regardless of partisan leaning, would have wanted her to succeed; a Premier’s success is closely related to the fortunes of the Province. Then, too, proof that the role of First Minister is gender neutral also needed affirmation. At least on that account, the Premier succeeded.
Dunderdale was in many ways an incomplete Premier; long-serving and ambitious on the one hand but, on the other, a politician lacking the disposition to share a common bond with the body politic.
Had she possessed the ability to engage people, communicate, commiserate, argue over differences, all the while showing confidence, a generosity of spirit, a shared mission, the word ‘empathy’ would have been omitted from Wednesday’s narrative. The whole event might have escaped the annals of history.
But, the Premier’s decision was taken well before she met her Tory Caucus. Paul Lane’s departure may have been a catalyst, but no one should doubt that prior feedback signified a Caucus ready for revolt; her resignation was not optional.
No one should underestimate the power of a frustrated and angry public.
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The public has soured on the P.C. Party. The Polls confirm this fact. The numbers would have been even worse had the public been surveyed following the ‘black-outs’.
No one, especially the Tory Caucus, should harbour an illusion that all will be well upon the election of a new leader. In consequence of the monumental failures of governance, for which the whole Government is solely to blame, more than one person’s head will be claimed, even if the first one is the Premier’s. The entire P.C. Caucus, especially the Cabinet, will have to shoulder a large share of the blame.
Real contrition will require a reversal of some policies. It will demand a wiser, more mature, and less divisive approach to the implementation of public policies. It will require manifest evidence of widespread change.
The P.C. Party is not about to embark just on choosing a new leader; it must embark on a journey of self-reflection and renewal.
One more point must be made. The P.C. party will ignore it at its peril.
It may seem unkind to conduct such analysis so soon after the Premier’s decision. But, I suggest had the normal screening of a Leadership Convention been permitted to occur, when Danny Williams resigned, Ms. Dunderdale might not have become Premier in the first place.
Williams’ arm twisting of the Tory Caucus to accept her name as the singular Leadership Candidate, may have served some particular interest of Danny’s; but the initiative was not only undemocratic, it was a mistake. Reportedly, more than half did not perceive Ms. Dunderdale as their personal choice. Yet, all submitted to the former Premier’s insistent demand.
The competitive leadership race, in whatever form it may be devised, constitutes an essential screening mechanism for ill-fitting aspirants no matter how well-intended their purpose or motivation. One person should not prescribe for the many. As we have seen in Premier Dunderdale, arbitrariness blocks a balancing of interests.
It may be of some interest that in 1979, following the retirement of Premier Frank Moores, then Fisheries Minister Walter Carter was the favourite of a province-wide Poll, the Finance Minister William Doody was the candidate preferred by Moores, but it was Brian Peckford who emerged the democratic choice of the Convention. He won three mandates handily.
Doubt the wisdom of the voters at your peril.
The P.C. Party may have already learned this essential democratic lesson. We don’t know. We do know that any judgment about leadership legitimately belongs not to one member but to the whole Party.
That is a good place for such overdue ‘change’ to begin.