30 December 2010

Kathy Dunderdale: The New Paternalism

Dunderdale has sought to continue key points of the Williams government, including development of the Lower Churchill megaproject, but she has already shown a different approach on labour relations.

She ordered ministers to settle a 13-month strike involving a small group of support workers on the Burin Peninsula, and later asked ministers to end a nearly two-year negotiation with physicians that concluded last week with ratification of a new pay package.

That’s the way cbc.ca/nl described Kathy Dunderdale on a story Wednesday that did everything but explain that the Conservative caucus met on Wednesday to endorse the deal that had already been cooked up in order to avoid a leadership contest.

Note that last paragraph, though.  It shows how readily conventional news media are already absorbing the new Conservative Party political narrative about the kind of leader Kathy Dunderdale will be.

It’s right in line with a comment by Conservative parliamentary assistant Steve Kent, as reported by VOCM:

Kent describes Dunderdale as a compassionate, thoughtful, and principle-centered leader.

The new premier may well be all those wonderful things but the point to notice here is that in the construction of the whole idea Dunderdale personally directed that ministers clear up not one but two embarrassing situations.  She has the positive qualities.  She personally bestowed benefits.

Incidentally, this is exactly how Dunderdale described her role at the news conference in which she announced the deal with doctors.  There’s no accident to this:  lines like that are worked out in advance and comments don’t wind up on the page in some sort of arbitrary fashion.  They are selected to convey very particular ideas.

Dunderdale’s prepared statement describes opening the lines of communication with doctors as “my first priority…”. According to Dunderdale’s prepared remarks, the two ministers directly involved in the negotiations merely played a role.

This is essentially the same construction used by Danny Williams:  he did things or directed them, especially when they were beneficially. Ministers took orders in a clearly subordinate role.

You can see the same sort of construction in the way his most ardent supporters describe Williams:  he personally bestowed pride, courage and so forth on the poor benighted people of Newfoundland (and Labrador). Take as an example this comment on a post by Nalcor lobbyist Tim Powers over at the Globe and Mail:

2:12 PM on November 27, 2010

I know we have to believe there are strong leaders out there who will step forward and continue the work of Danny Williams. Quite frankly, with the news of his departure, I felt somewhat orphaned, a sense of being left alone surrounded by those who will, again, try and rob us of what we have achieved. …

Williams is a father figure, in the classic paternalist sense.  His departure orphaned his children.

What this political line ignores, of course, is the role that Kathy Dunderdale played in the Williams administration,  She was Williams’ hand-picked Number Two and his hand-picked successor. Like Tom Rideout before her, she represented a direct link to the older Conservative Party and its supporters who predated Williams.

Had she felt strongly about the doctor’s dispute or about the Burin situation she was in a position to change the government’s position. She didn’t. She supported it consistently. Similarly, both Tom Marshall and Jerome Kennedy held ministerial portfolios that gave them both legal and political power to resolve the matters long before the government finally settled both. The truth is that cabinet changed its approach to these two issues for reasons other than the arrival of a new leader who is compassionate.

In other words, the reality of how political decisions get made is considerably more complicated.  It’s also not something politicians really want people to know about, let alone discuss.

Instead, politicians fall back on time-worn attitudes to politics that people quite readily accept without even realising what the words actually mean.

Premier Kathy Dunderdale is no change from the resurgence of paternalism in Newfoundland and Labrador politics.

- srbp -


Shannon Reardon said...

Ed, superb analysis and truth-telling as always. It always astounds me that otherwise intelligent people I have encountered regarding this and regarding Williams, in particular, buy this narrative without question. Brainwashed sycophants in the truest, and scariest, sense.

Edward Hollett said...

Two things Shannon:

1. It's like anyone who talks about the Tory leadership as if there isn't a caucus agreement to avoid an open leadership fight: astonishing.

2. I don't think it is so much about sycophants (although there are plenty of those out there) as it is the extent to which the local political culture is dominated by exactly the same characteristics that have driven it for a century or more. And ultimately it seems as if nothing has changed in the past 40 odd years.

Shannon Reardon said...

I agree with both points there, Ed. Could there also be some apathy thrown in there too, where seemingly most people don't care as long as we are taken care of by a Messiah-type (and his groomed successor)?

This extreme, almost paranoid, nationalism that Williams so exploited for his own gain and legacy, like in Smallwood's day, has us in this most precarious position at present whereby we as a collective stand for this kind of dangerous paternalism.

Ursula said...

Not so long ago, in a land not so faraway and not completely forgotten, there lived a dysfunctional family."Pater" leaves the fold ,the family unit implodes , "Mater" , the compassionate one ,assumes responsibility ,things begin to fall into place ,work related issues are settled .Things go along fine until a revolte erupts amongst the male contenders , there is much guilt in the land ,the cry goes out for "PATER" to return ,how else can we survive ?

Haven't we been told that so very many times ,"PATER" is the only one who can save us from ourselves .

A change of heart from "PATER",we are SAVED , the forestalled "CORONATION" will go ahead as planned ...........

There is much rejoicing in the "Oil Kingdom",KWs are flowing like water ,domestic power rates have doubled ,serfs are grumbling in the fields , fishers survey their empty nets .

But all is not lost for this tiny kingdom ,"PATER", has given the people their raison d'etre , he has given them "THE FATHER OF MODERN NEWFOUNDLAND AND LABRADOR".

And no one lives happily ever after .


Edward Hollett said...

Sure Shannon.

There's always an element of apathy. Contrary to popular misconception, most people don't pay attention to politics most of the time. You have to add that in there as well.

But in a much larger sense the sorts of behaviour and attitudes seen over the past 10 to 15 years are actually very old attitudes that are straight out of the pre-1972 period. it cuts across party lines, confirming that the aprty system in Newfoundland and Labrador is really a shell. There are labels but they don't have a real meaning. That's why it is so funny to watch all the self-decribed Tories rant and rave about evil Liberals and then endorse the same policies the Liberals implemented. or the ones who try and categorise people right of the bat : "I support this and I am not a Liberal. I am a PC" as if that actually made any difference to anything.

This is an old theme around these parts, as you can see here.

Jerry Bannister said...

Premier Dunderdale's announcement today helps to explain something that I've found puzzling ever since Mr. Williams announced his resignation.

In a Telegram story on 26 November, Mr. Williams was quoted as saying, “A new leader can (then) put his or her stamp on a budget, throne speech and as well can do a major session of the House (of Assembly) and have some debate and then go into a summer election campaign."

If the Tories had been actually preparing for a real leadership contest this Winter and a full convention in the Spring of 2011, as CBC and other outlets reported, it would have been awfully difficult, if not impossible, for the new leader to be appointed in time to put his or her stamp on the upcoming budget.

Edward Hollett said...

Absolutely, Jerry.

This way they certainly can avoid that problem, Jerry but as you know his departure was so sudden and unexpected it basically left them all scrambling to figure out what to do.

There would be a limit anyway to how much a new leader could shift gears. What he or she would have done is really just change the labels on stuff and anything new - assuming there would be anything new - would come after the election.

As it is, they are still going to have quite the scramble between now and October.