23 January 2014

Other people’s agendas #nlpoli

If you have not read Kathy Dunderdale’s resignation speech, take a moment and do so now.

What is most striking about the speech is that there is absolutely nothing anywhere in it that Kathy Dunderdale can claim as her personal accomplishment as Premier. There’s nothing she actually did during her three years in the most powerful political office in the province.

What Dunderdale talked about in the list of accomplishments are things that the Conservatives have done – supposedly – since 2003.

But look at the speech again.  There is nothing that Kathy set out to do and can now leave office safe in the knowledge she accomplished it.

Instead,  you will find a sentence toward the end, as she was clewing up, that mentioned something she hoped:

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 standing for public office.

That is the only part of the speech where Dunderdale spoke with some personal conviction.  This was important to her.

But it was at the end of the speech, not the beginning.

And it was something that she could only hope for, not something she had done.

The one part of the speech that was Kathy’s own and it was pushed to the background.

In her final speech as Premier of Newfoundland and Labrador, Kathy Dunderdale inadvertently provided future generations with an understanding of why her term in office was short, full of controversy, and marked by one political catastrophe after another.

Forget the talk of communications problems.  Kathy Dunderdale had an army of people to help her say whatever she wanted to say. No Premier of Newfoundland and Labrador has gone through more communications staff than Kathy Dunderdale.  She had television, radio, newspapers, e-mail, the Internet, Twitter, Facebook, and old fashion after-dinner speechifying.

The problem was never that Kathy Dunderdale lacked the means or the ability to say something.

The problem was that she had nothing to say.

Whatever she wanted to accomplish as the first woman to serve as Premier - whatever desire she may have nurtured in her heart – it got pushed down.  Everything else came before it, just as it did in her speech.

Kathy didn’t do anything about it.  Maybe she didn’t do anything  because Kathy Dunderdale was little more than a figurehead in the administration.  Certainly that’s the inevitable conclusion you’d come to from looking at events from November 2010 to this week.

The reason for her inaction is irrelevant.  Danny Williams may have handed her the job as a fill-in replacement.  Danny’s brother Ed may have helped engineer the deal that kept her in office afterward.

But after the 2011 general election, Kathy Dunderdale was by everyone’s understanding the Premier in her own right. She’d won a mandate, even if it was nothing like the overwhelming majority she imagined.  Kathy owned the platform.

And then nothing happened.

Sure she held a conference at public expense, but it amounted to nothing substantial.  A couple of times, Dunderdale  mentioned some undefined interest in family issues or parental leave benefits but beyond that, there’s no sign she ever did anything about either.

What you left with at the end of Kathy Dunderdale’s resignation is yet another woman who entered politics in Newfoundland and Labrador and who should be recognised for that.  But make no mistake, as much as Kathy liked to imagine the past 40 years hadn’t happened,  she did not break ground like Hazel MacIsaac or Lynn Verge nor did she leave behind an actual legacy of progressive policy like Patt Cowan. 

You see, Kathy Dunderdale may have been the first woman Premier but she did nothing to promote, advance, or otherwise enhance the place of women in public life that a dozen other women in the province couldn’t easily match or, in some cases, better by a considerable margin.

None of that really matters any more.  Kathy Dunderdale is out of politics.  That’s exactly where she’d planned to be in 2010 before other people’s agendas intervened.