After the battle there is only tribute.
My experience with Kathy Dunderdale started at the PC convention in October 2010. I watched from 20 feet away as she nominated her choice as Vice President of the Party. It wasn't the "old boys" choice. A moment later, Danny Williams was on his feet and moving directly to his choice. He bent over and wrapped an arm around the shoulder of his choice, whispered in her ear long enough so everyone took notice, and Kathy's choice was scuttled. Symbolic really of the days to come.
When Williams suddenly chose to exit the political scene in December, 2010, Kathy became interim Premier due to her status as Deputy Premier. She claimed publicly she didn't want the job permanently, but no prominent members came forward to challenge. Suddenly there was a rah-rah for her leadership, and the taste of well-stroked ego convinced her to take it on full-time. I challenged her leadership with the required signatures and money, but the backroom boys wouldn't hear of it. A challenge and leadership race wasn't part of their plans. As Chick Chilock said to me, as left my home after spending three hours trying to brow beat me, "I am in the backroom, and we know you'll do the right thing." The right thing being: don't challenge the leadership.
In any case, Kathy took the bait of the backroom, disappeared for a few weeks, and came back a brand new woman. She had a new hair style and had shed dramatic weight in a very short period - leading some to speculate she had a surgery of some sort. She began her term with a soft, diplomatic approach, giving the doctors all they wanted and settling a large dispute with them. She hit a few bumps. Most notably the attempted appointment of Williams' girlfriend to the Offshore Petroleum Board. The attempt to cover up that mess, and the subsequent lies they got caught in, really framed the years to come - incompetence and falsehoods.
Kathy did manage to get through all that, win an election against two very weak opposition parties, and stroll on. She battled for the Muskrat Falls project, getting it through the House, but alienating many along the way with her combative, arrogant style. She pushed through Bill 29 severely limiting access to information in the province. She struck out viciously at opponents of the government as "nay-sayers" and "known critics of the government". She became framed as a sort of unfeeling tyrant.
All that being said, there is something else to be said here. There is no question, for anyone that understands how backroom politics work, that Kathy Dunderdale was set up from the very beginning. In the backroom its the "patsy" or "flak jacket". The patsy being the one that takes the fall for everything, and the flak jacket being the one to take the bullets to protect those really behind the scenes. In Kathy's case she had the unfortunate distinction of being both.
In my estimation, Kathy took the bullets for Danny Williams. Williams made every decision as premier until he left office in 2010 - some would say his decision making never ended. She took all the criticism for Muskrat Falls, Emera, the loan guarantee, etc. Most recently she took the blame for failing electrical infrastructure, crippled by $1.2 billion in cuts to upgrades and maintenance that were authorized in 2009 by her then boss - Danny Williams. She took the heat for mass layoffs in the public service, which had become bloated by massive hiring between 2004 and 2009 - by Danny Williams. She took heat for massive deficits in the public pension plans that were not paid into from 2003 to 2010 (or since) by her boss - Danny Williams. The list goes on and on.
Williams made himself out to be "good time Charlie". While he reigned it was one big party. Spend, spend, spend. During his reign the province would burn through nearly $11 billion in oil money. The massive hyper inflation raised the prices of people's homes and their wages. It was good times. Kathy then had to cut back to save up the 35% down payment needed for Williams' other pet project - Muskrat Falls. She had to put away upwards of $3 billion so the feds would put up their $5 billion loan guarantee. All a part of "Danny's plan" as one adamant PC said to me once.
Yes, the truth about Kathy is she never had a chance. She was put in as a figure head, and run by her Cabinet - all appointed by, you guessed it, Williams. She was set up for personal failure while achieving the goals of others. The ultimate "party pooper". As one friend would put it: "It's a sin". The province's first female premier gutted by the backroom. Sure her attitude and style did not help, but perhaps those were well known attributes.
Kathy Dunderdale will forever be known as Newfoundland and Labrador's first female premier. Like Kim Campbell was Canada's first female prime minister. Both were manipulated by ambition and vanity, and both suffered similar falls from grace. The difference in this province is people pile on - like a high school bully fest. I've been guilty of it myself at times. They won't leave Kathy with one shred of dignity. In the irony of all ironies, and I would argue deliberately so, some people have been crying out for Williams to come back and save them. The very man who orchestrated their pain in the first place with his decisions as premier. The biggest question out of all of this turbulence is this: "Will Newfoundlanders and Labradorians see how they are being manipulated, who is manipulating them, and change the political culture of the province -fundamentally? If the answer is no, then Kathy Dunderdale's sacrifice will have been for nothing. If the answer is yes, then hats off to Kathy Dunderdale.
Here's to the crazy ones, the misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers, the
round pegs in the square holes... the ones who see things differently -- they're
not fond of rules... You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify
them, but the only thing you can't do is ignore them because they change
things... they push the human race forward, and while some may see them as the
crazy ones, we see genius, because the ones who are crazy enough to think that
they can change the world, are the ones who do.
US computer engineer & industrialist (1955 - 2011)