Nfld. & Labrador

Former premier Kathy Dunderdale opens up on life after politics, and her new career

The former premier speaks to CBC about her new job at The Gathering Place in St. John's, and her transition from politics to private life.

Dunderdale recently hired as a volunteer co-ordinator at The Gathering Place in St. John's

Former Newfoundland and Labrador premier Kathy Dunderdale speaks with the CBC's Carolyn Stokes about her new job at the Gathering Place and life after politics. 2:53

Former premier Kathy Dunderdale is speaking publicly for the first time since leaving politics more than two years ago, sharing both what she learned from her time in office and experiences at her new job.

Dunderdale was recently hired at The Gathering Place in St. John's as a volunteer co-ordinator.

"I promised myself that once I left politics, I would really leave politics, and I wouldn't participate in political commentary," said Dunderdale on breaking the silence she's maintained since resigning as premier in January 2014.

That resignation came under a cloud of criticism over her leadership and handling of the DarkNL provincial power outages.

Despite the tumultuous ending to her three-plus years at the helm of the province, Dunderdale said she has made peace with her premiership.

People have no idea what they're giving up when they go into politics, because your life is never truly your own again after.- Kathy Dunderdale

"I'm very comfortable with my legacy and what I was able to achieve. It's a bit close yet for anyone to have the final say," she told CBC News, with an added warning for anyone considering entering the political sphere.

"People have no idea of what they're giving up when they go into politics, because your life is never truly your own again after, and people judge you all the time."

First female premier for N.L.

One particular point of pride to her political career was becoming Newfoundland and Labrador's first female premier, although Dunderdale maintains a humble attitude towards the milestone.

Kathy Dunderdale credits other female politicians for paving the way towards her becoming the province's first female premier. (CBC)

"I stood on other women's shoulders. I was able to be the first woman premier because other people had done that work, other women had done that work before me, and I had it easier than they did," she said.

Dunderdale admitted that her gender affected the way some people treated her while in office.

"We're all socialized in a certain way, and we're all learning to do better as we know better, but that's a process."

I promised myself that once I left politics, I would really leave politics.- Kathy Dunderdale

Calling the premier position "a tough job," Dunderdale admitted it was a challenge for her at times, and led to her questioning her reason for entering politics in the first place: her desire for change for the better.

"I love[d] the work. I don't know how good I am at the politics piece, because that can be very very frustrating," she said.

"For me, it was always about the work and making a difference and trying to remember who I work for and why I put my hand up to do that."

A new chapter

Now, Dunderdale says she has found a different outlet for that desire to help people, a transition that began this past spring when she began to volunteer at The Gathering Place, an organization that provides people in need with free meals, clothing, social programs and a multitude of other services.

"I didn't care what job they had for me, I was happy to do it," said Dunderdale​.

Volunteers at The Gathering Place feed about 250 people a hot lunch daily. (CBC)

"You use all your talents and skills, and it's such a rewarding place to work."

Dunderdale joined about 350 other volunteers who do the bulk of the work to keep The Gathering Place going, tasks that included everything from scrubbing dishes, to stocking the kitchen to helping develop policies and write proposals.

Much of the volunteer work saw her interacting with the more than 800 people from all walks of life who use the non-profit organization's services.

"This place is about respect, it's about equality, it's about compassion," she said.

'I love it'

With an ever-increasing demand for its services — The Gathering Place estimates it will grow from serving 800 people to 1,500 people in the future — along with a need for hundreds more volunteers, the organization's board of directors decided to hire a volunteer co-ordinator in order to manage an umbrella of tasks, and Dunderdale applied.

"It was a surprise to me," admitted Sister Elizabeth Davis, one of the board's co-chairs, of receiving the resumé of such a well-known name.

"Kathy came with a level of expertise, a level of skill, and a level of empathy with the community," she said.

Kathy Dunderdale manages about 350 volunteers, and anticipates the need for more volunteers in the future as demand continues to grow. (CBC)

Dunderdale is one of six paid positions at the organization — her job funded through Newfoundland and Labrador Housing.

Her days are filled with managing the organization's army of volunteers, organizing training, and helping plan future programming and policy.

She says she loves both her new job and her old political life equally.

But while both roles related to helping people, there's a distinct fulfillment to working at The Gathering Place and being able to see the difference a person can make in someone else's life, and how that can impact your own.

"You get to look at your own life in a very particular, different way," she said.

"You come away richer, you really do. And I love it."

With files from Carolyn Stokes