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Monday 1 July 2013


Attempts at defining ‘leadership’ might suggest one can write a prescription for why one Premier can command popular support and another fails. Declining popularity, for Premier Kathy Dunderdale and her Administration, certainly puts the question under a critical spot light.

Leadership is a tricky matter; for political leaders in trouble, it says more about their ability to ‘connect’ with the body politic, than the public’s excess of expectations.  Such a connection determines not just how much latitude they exercise, but how far the public’s patience can be stretched.  Those who successfully bond are skilful and confident.  They can expect that, if the relationship diminishes, it might be rekindled, later.

Leadership is truly as complex as the person at the helm. Those who possess leadership’s essential qualities seldom need the affirmation of opinion polls.

Why isn’t this Premier connected with her ‘body politic’?  
I don’t believe she ever was. Afterall, there was no leadership contest; an essential early screening, common in all political parties, was deftly avoided.  Delivered by Danny Williams, on the centrifugal force of his own pixie dust, Ms. Dunderdale proceeded to complete his unfinished mandate.  She never once tried to define her own.

Perhaps, such easy ascension deprived her of an opportunity to demonstrate that she had no betters, in the Tory Party.  Where is honor to be found when an absence of political scars, fatigue and the occasional misspeak, still affords one the reins of power?  Indeed, such a bloodless pursuit may have denied her victory’s essential legitimacy. 

Power is not merely a condition conferred by having won the largest number of seats.  The Premier, legitimately, acquired that perquisite.  But real power, in a democratic society, is jealously guarded by a wary public.  It ebbs and flows.  How much is given, and retrieved, is always determined by how well the leader performs.

Performance is, only minimally, a list of achievements; it speaks to communications, to mutual respect and, especially, to the ability to convey a certainty that you know what you are doing.  Those exchanges are neither arrogant nor condescending; at times, one must beg forgiveness, the leader shouldn’t make excuses, but she ought to frequently offer the assurance that she will try harder. 

The body politic is not mean, but it is demanding. It seeks more, if more is promised; it will be satisfied with less, if it is demonstrated to be in the public interest. For every political leader, communications is not hit or miss; it is a two way process and it simply never stops.

One of the odd parts about our political system is that Premiers can win a majority without personal electoral support. Though their credibility, style or ‘je ne sais quoi’ is important, often the Party’s ‘brand power’, and the momentum created by others, translates into their success.  If this describes the ascension of Premier Dunderdale to the 8th floor, a succession of bad Polls confirm, that the force has no staying power.  Put simply, the Premier has been drawing on a storehouse of goodwill, developed by her predecessor, which she has failed to replenish.

As bad as Muskrat Falls is for the Province, as poorly as it has been explained and justified, as miserably as Provincial Budgets have been handled, while the details may be beyond most people’s grasp, the public possesses an unmistakable ability to sense failure.  They see a Premier not in control, not understanding of the heavy burden she sought; one unable to distinguish between the significant and the foolhardy. 

What is worse, the Premier demonstrates no capacity for discussing issues openly, knowledgeably or respectfully. She is preoccupied with secrecy.  She disrespects her critics, including those who want her to succeed.  She has allowed her senior Cabinet Ministers to emulate her, leaving little opportunity for the Government to change course.  On what basis, then, is the Premier awaiting a magical turnaround?

Recent Polls place the Government in third spot, the Premier’s personal popularity is in the same place; yet, with an air of defiance, she tells us the problem is ‘difficult decisions’.  This is a fantasy.

All Premiers endure tough days, at some point, in their tenure.  Most often, leaders are pummelled by events quite beyond their control. Some handle them well and rebound; others poorly, and thus they disappear from the political landscape. The current problems are those of the Premier’s making.

NL has never been as well off, as it is presently.  The Government has never had so much money to contribute to social programs, to build infrastructure or provide government services.

On what basis does Premier Dunderdale claim that she has the ability to re-build her relationship with the electorate? When was the connection made? How can one re-build what never really existed?  

Ms. Dunderdale finds herself in a position where the one thing she possesses, in excess, is time; though it won’t last.  She may hope another Poll contains a different outcome, and if not that one, the next.

Internal Party loyalties, structure and constitution will protect the Premier from review, if she employs them. But, no one is impervious.  Caucus solidarity, even if it is not pretense, cannot endure the weight of more bad Polls.  The Premier must know that many long standing P.C. Party organizers no longer maintain their silence.  Nothing good will result if her Party is sacrificed by the hubris of its most senior member.

I believe the Premier must give herself a defined period, say six months, during which to make the positive connection with the electorate, I described earlier.  Failing this test, the Premier should call it a day.