Dunderdale earns place in history books

Kathy Dunderdale has made provincial history, and earned membership in a highly exclusive political club.
Kathy Dunderdale speaks to supporters at the Progressive Conservative victory party in St. John's on Tuesday. (CBC )

With a convincing victory in Newfoundland and Labrador's election Tuesday, Kathy Dunderdale has made provincial history, and earned membership in a highly exclusive club.

Dunderdale is not only the first woman to lead a Newfoundland and Labrador party to victory in an election, but only the second woman to earn that achievement in Canadian history.

Prince Edward Island's Catherine Callbeck, a Liberal, was the first to accomplish that, in 1993. (Pat Duncan was elected leader of the territorial government in the Yukon election in 2000.)

Dunderdale, 59, led the Progressive Conservatives to a solid majority on Tuesday night.

Dunderdale is currently one of four women who are leading governments in Canada. Christy Clark succeeded Gordon Campbell as Liberal leader in British Columbia in March, while Alison Redford won the PC leadership in Alberta only this month. Eve Aariak has led the government in Nunavut since 2008.

Her own mandate

Sworn in as premier last December when Danny Williams retired from public life, Dunderdale had intended only to serve in an interim capacity.

She changed her mind, however, within weeks and became full-time leader of the Progressive Conservatives earlier this year, with other cabinet ministers agreeing not to challenge her candidacy. The party had felt that a leadership convention so close to a scheduled election would be divisive.

Dunderdale, a former social worker, had been active in women's groups and feminist causes for many years before being elected to the house of assembly in 2003. She served as deputy premier to Williams, and was natural resources minister — a key portfolio in a province where the offshore oil industry and the pending Lower Churchill hydroelectric deal are top-tier policy concerns.

When she was sworn in as premier Dunderdale emphasized how significantly times had changed.

"I am reminded of how different life was for my own grandmother. Until 1925, a woman could not even vote in Newfoundland and Labrador and today for the very first time in our province's history, a woman serves as premier," Dunderdale said.

"Imagine that."