She’s gone b’ys, she’s gone

#DarkNL did Kathy Dunderdale in, but the lights are still out in the House of Assembly

I can’t believe Kathy Dunderdale is gone.

I honestly can’t believe it. Here I was, sitting at home trying to enjoy a drink of gin in peace, and boom. Fred Hutton barges into NightLine, and blows my blessed mind.

Not, of course, that I am totally surprised. The writing has been on the wall for (roughly) eight months. But it’s still difficult to process that the trigger was Paul Lane.

Lane, you may recall, was the most bullish and hyper-partisan Tory elected to the House of Assembly in 2011. Before his Liberal conversion in the hallowed halls of Smitty’s family restaurant, Paul Lane was better known for screaming at Dippers on Twitter and rigging internet polls than for his role as solemn deputy of The People. That he jumped ship two days into the Premier’s vacation says a lot about the current state of the provincial PC Party.

As an aside…

Paul Lane has been a trigger for a lot of things, including a debate about the ‘ethics’ of floor-crossing. This is really a debate about how our democracy should work. Is floor-crossing wrong? Well, maybe. Crossing the floor is acceptable if we believe that (a) a politician’s primary duty is to serve as an immediate conduit of his constituents’ desires (fluctuating, discordant and fickle as they may be), and (b) Paul Lane’s constituents incontrovertibly expressed a clear collective desire for him to join the Liberals. Unfortunately the latter is, for all intents and purposes, unknowable without some democratic mechanism (election, referendum, recall). Without a comprehensive, independently verified vote count, we have no basis for determining whether Paul is directly representing the collective desire of his constituents, on the one hand, or the possibility, on the other, that he is only switching parties out of a crass calculation of his own naked self-interest. So, on this count, he can’t just change sides without formally having the electorate weigh in.

Alternatively, there is the view that although we elect people along the basis of party allegiance, we are really voting directly ‘for the person.’ Consequently they are free to arrange themselves however they want within the shifting arrangements of voting blocs in the legislative assembly, because we elect them to exercise their power of Reason in the service of the Common Good. Does it sound to you like Paul Lane fits this job description? If so, then you probably don’t care so much about floor-crossing (and you definitely didn’t vote for Paul Lane). What the ‘right answer’ is here, I leave to the public to hash out. But I have a definite democratic preference.

A series of (really) unfortunate events

The Premier’s resignation has been coming for some time. Kathy Dunderdale botched the PR on almost every major issue that came across her desk since 2011. She bailed on meeting with the family of Burton Winters following his tragic death on the ice in early 2012, because she feared his grandmother would use it as a political stunt. By shuttering the Public Utilities Board review of Muskrat Falls and presiding over the most regressive Access to Information legislation in Canada, her government appeared as though they openly disdained the province’s (feeble) democratic institutions. After waving away about a thousand jobs in the last provincial budget, her administration had to rescind cuts to the Justice Department after the entire legal sector rose up in revolt, making it look as though no one in charge knew what they were doing. And when confronted with more than a solid 18 months of flaccid poll numbers, she shrugged that what we thought of her government in between elections didn’t count.

But it was DarkNL that did her in. We are used to a government that doesn’t “govern based on polls” (clearly!), but suddenly it’s like the executive was so indifferent to public opinion that they couldn’t even be bothered properly pandering to us anymore. She spent a day in the media arguing with the public about what a ‘crisis’ was when a few dozen thousand people were on their fourth day without power. As far as it played in the public eye, she may as well have told us to eat cake. If she had any public credibility going into the blackouts, she certainly had none coming out.

I have no doubt she is a competent and genuinely compassionate individual. But for whatever reason, Kathy Dunderdale couldn’t sell herself to the public beyond her modest 2011 victory over two dysfunctional parties. At her best, she came off as aloof and out of touch; at her worst, she came off condescending. I have no idea what went wrong. But I also know that the problems she had to deal with were not entirely her fault. A lot of the people clamouring for the return of King Danny would do well to remember that he left her with a lot this mess.

The future for the Tories is uncertain. Tom Marshall will claim the the throne for now, but the future for the Tories is uncertain. It’s hard to tell how much of the government’s sagging polls could be laid at the feet of an unpopular leader, and how much of it is dissatisfaction with the governing party more generally. And maybe it’s all for the best; as Morgan Murray quipped earlier on Twitter: “Good week for PCs. Got rid of Kathy and Paul Lane. #winwin”.

The Confederation Building blackout

Meanwhile, the Liberals have shown us that they’re more popular than a government everyone hates, but I also think it’s fair to say that they haven’t shown us they’re a real ‘government in waiting’ yet. As for the provincial NDP, well, my mother always warned me against speaking ill of the dead.

But here we are. Kathy Dunderdale, 10th Premier of Newfoundland and Labrador since Confederation and the first woman to serve in that capacity, is toast. She gave her best go at a hard gig, and I have no doubt this must be a weight off her shoulders. I can’t say it’s unexpected. But I can definitely say I never expected it to play out like this.

Follow Drew Brown on Twitter: @drewfoundland

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