Nfld. & Labrador

Dunderdale shoots for N.L. Tory nod

Politics in Newfoundland and Labrador takes a twist as Kathy Dunderdale, who became interim premier almost four weeks ago, says she wants the job for good.

Full PC caucus support cited in understated announcement

Politics in Newfoundland and Labrador took a twist Thursday when Kathy Dunderdale, who became interim premier almost four weeks ago, said she wanted the job for good.

Dunderdale, who was Danny Williams's choice to serve as premier when he retired Dec. 3, had initially said she was not interested in leading the governing Progressive Conservatives into the scheduled October 2011 election.

But speaking to reporters at Confederation Building Thursday, Dunderdale indicated she had been persuaded to seek the PC leadership.

"It's an exciting opportunity — something that I didn't expect but that I enthusiastically embraced," Dunderdale said.

Dunderdale told reporters that she had the full support of the 42-member PC caucus, which has been in power since 2003. Dunderdale, though, was flanked only by her daughter, and none of the other members of caucus attended her announcement.

Dunderdale became the first woman to lead Newfoundland and Labrador when she was sworn in earlier this month. All three of the parties represented in the house of assembly now have women as leaders.

The PC party, not coincidentally, officially opened a call for leadership nominations on Thursday. Individuals have until Jan. 10 to file papers, the party said.

It appears increasingly unlikely there will be a race, however.

Last week, key members of the cabinet, including Health Minister Jerome Kennedy, Finance Minister Tom Marshall and Education Minister Darin King, excused themselves from the race, and said they wanted Dunderdale to stay on as party leader. All other members of caucus who had been approached about a leadership bid similarly removed themselves from consideration.

'Not planned from the beginning'

She denied suggestions that her accession had been crafted from within the PC party to ensure a smooth transition of power and avoid a potentially messy leadership convention just months before a provincial election.

"It was not planned from the beginning. My focus was entirely what I said it was," said Dunderdale, who said she only put serious thought to the leadership after the legislature closed two weeks ago.

Dunderdale said knowing she had the support of caucus members was critical to her decision.

"As things progressed, there was quite a bit of support expressed to me to continue my service to the people of the province in this new and particular way, [which] I hadn't seriously considered until then," she said.

Dunderdale said she and the PC caucus agreed that she will stay on as premier until at least the close of nominations.

If the leadership is contested, she will step aside.

"We don't know yet if there is a leadership contest. If there is, I look forward to that as well," she said.

'Engineer a coronation'

Kelvin Parsons, the acting leader of the Liberal Opposition, lashed out at Dunderdale for breaking a promise.

"[She] promised she would step down immediately if she changed her mind and decided to run for the job," Parsons said in a statement. "However, now that she is openly seeking the job, Dunderdale is breaking that commitment and hanging onto the post for as long as possible."

Parsons accused Dunderdale of "trying to engineer a coronation for herself."

The PC party has not yet set a date or location for a leadership convention.

Under provincial legislation, an election is held every four years.