In his blog “Off the cuff”, Telegram journalist James McLeod provided his transcription of portions of Premier Kathy Dunderdale’s address on Saturday morning, October 13, 2012, to delegates attending the Annual General Meeting of the Progressive Conservative Party of Newfoundland and Labrador in Gander. First, he provided excerpts on several themes. Then, he provided a lengthier transcription.
He noted: “Premier Kathy Dunderdale gave a fascinating speech on Saturday morning. Friday night was her ‘keynote address’ where she delivered a high-energy partisan barnburner. Saturday morning, bleary-eyed PC Party members gathered in the main convention room, and Dunderdale gave her report to the membership as party leader. The speech ran more than 40 minutes; it seemed completely unscripted. It was just the premier at a microphone talking. She talked at length about Bill 29, the access to information and privacy debate. She talked a lot about the province’s fiscal position, and explicitly acknowledged that the government is overspending, and she personally slaughtered the sacred cow of Newfoundland and Labrador that the government has to spend more because of the province’s geography and dispersed population. Also, because I was lucky enough to be the only journalist in the room when she gave her report as leader, you won’t find any of this anywhere else.”
Below are the excerpts he posted:
Regarding the province’s fiscal position:
“Let me tell you, we’re spending too much money. The Board of Trade talks to us about spending too much money, they’re absolutely right. We are. And we’ve got to get a handle on it. …Do you know that in Newfoundland and Labrador, we spend almost $5,000 per person more than any other province in Canada in providing services to the people of Newfoundland and Labrador. Four thousand seven hundred dollars more. And people can talk about, you know, that’s due to our rural nature, and some of that is true, but don’t forget that we don’t have to provide subway systems. We don’t have to provide major infrastructure for cities. Yes, we’ve got a lot of infrastructure that we’ve got to provide right around the province, especially because we’re a coastal people, but there are other challenges. Every other province has a rural perspective but they also have larger urban centres that require very definite investments and expensive investments. So there’s not always an easy answer as to why we spend more.”
Regarding the spending of oil revenues:
“We want to keep taxes low. We want people to drive money back into the economy, but I’m going to tell you a startling fact now, because there’s a downside to that. When people don’t pay a whole lot of income tax and so on, then sometimes you can get a little benign about your advice to government. Yes, give ‘em a higher raise. Yes, build that. Yes do that. Yes, yes, yes yes. And you’re easily able to say yes because there’s no direct consequence to you. If your taxes had to come out of the pocket to pay for it, then maybe we would have a little more sober reflection about some of the things we’re doing. Startling fact for you now: We are all so dependent on oil and revenue from our offshore and our mining and our fishery so on to keep this place going. Nineteen per cent of the people in this province pay 70 per cent of the taxes. Think about that now. Nineteen per cent of the population pay 70 per cent of the taxes. And that’s a really good thing. We’re really proud of that as a government, that we’ve relieved that burden on people, that we’re using the revenue, that we’re the principal beneficiaries of our resources and we’re using that to fuel our economy, we’re using that to provide services to the people of the province. But there’s only so much revenue out there, and if we continue to spend, spend, spend, spend, spend, then there has to be a consequence over here.”
Regarding Bill 29 (Access to Information and Protection of Privacy):
“One area where we haven’t been as effective as I would have liked to have seen us has been in terms of our communication. And we have worked hard this summer, let me tell you, on doing the kinds of things and supplementing our communications staff, reorganizing within all of our caucus and our offices and our departments to make sure that we’re effectively communicating to the people that we serve so that they understand what we’re doing. Because the worst example of not understanding what we’re doing that we went through this year is the ATIPP legislation. It burns me, it does, because freedom of information, the right to get information from government about what is going on in this province, began with us in 2003-2004. Yes, the Liberals brought in the ATIPP legislation but they didn’t proclaim it so they didn’t have to live by it, so they told nobody anything, and then they’ve got the nerve to sit over on the other side of the House and say we’re being secretive. We brought in the legislation that gave people access to government information. Now, there’s certain kinds of information that have to be protected. We do business with people of the province. We do business with the offshore companies. We do business with international investors. They’re not going to come do business with us if we’re going to release all of their commercial information and their competitors now have got a leg up on them. Not doing it. They’re not going to do it, and they don’t do it anywhere in the world. So we have to protect that information. We have to protect personal information, and you can see, like the issues that we’ve had in the health care system, people want to know stuff that’s none of their damn business, and we have to protect people. (Applause break.)
“There’s lots of people, you know, who want to know everything, and I understand why they do. As I said to some of my friends in the media, sure, you’d come up and sit in the cabinet room if we let you up there, because that’s your bread and butter, information. The opposition parties want to know everything we’re doing because they’re looking for fodder all the time. But we have to protect commercially sensitive information and we have to protect information about individuals, and when we brought those amendments in — amendments to legislation that we proclaimed and that we live by every day — what we were doing was protecting information, briefing notes — it’s not good protecting a cabinet paper up here if you haven’t protected the briefing note down here. So it’s that continuum that ensures that what it is that needs to be kept private is kept private. Now, I’m going to tell you, I come from a school that says, tell everybody as much as you can tell them, share as much information as you can possibly share, because I don’t believe that it hurts you. I think the more that people know, the better off we all are. Gosh, as politicians, we’d love to be able to tell everything. There’s lots of things, you know, you’re — Ooh, if I could only say — but you can’t say it because in if you’re only saying it will help you but it will hurt somebody else, and government shouldn’t be doing that. And the spin that went on what we did in the House of Assembly was scandalous.”
Regarding why she’s involved in politics:
“I’m a little girl from the south coast, from a village on the south coast of Newfoundland. Never had money. Don’t have money. Never gonna have money. Never gonna have it. Just like my mother. We’d give mom five or six dresses for Mothers Day when she was late in life and how thrilled we were to be able to do it, because for three years at one time she only had one dress. We would inundate her. And my father said, ‘I don’t know why you fellas are doing that, your mother will have all of them on before the end of the month.’ That’s my experience, and I’m happy with it. I’m blessed in my life every day, so accumulating riches is not something that I’m interested in. It isn’t. Unless I win the lottery, it’s never going to happen. … All of the people I work with are much the same way. They do this work not because they’re trying to feather their own nest or do anything for themselves, they’re here because they believe in Newfoundland and Labrador. They have a vision, they have a hope and we have a plan. “
Regarding her relationship with Prime Minister Stephen Harper:
“We need to lead by example in terms of how we deal with people and treat people. Prime Minister Harper made a commitment to us in his election, and you know something, it didn’t make a row of beans difference in terms of the election, particularly on the island.