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Newfoundland’s Powerhouse Premier

Newfoundland’s Powerhouse Premier

Don’t mess with Newfoundland and Labrador’s Premier Kathy Dunderdale. Armed with experience in many fields, (she is a social worker, has served municipally as deputy mayor and is, of course, a provincial politician), Dunderdale is a powerful lady with a lot of clout. As Minister of Natural Resources under former Premier Danny Williams, Dunderdale signed off on multimillion dollar development deals. The Hebron oil field development, for example, will reap more than $20 billion in royalties for the province. Despite her many achievements, her role as Newfoundland’s first female premier may prove to be her biggest challenge yet.

Newfoundland faces two main struggles. First, it is $8.2 billion in debt and second, it is facing a labour shortage crisis brought on ironically, by an unprecedented energy and resources boom. The province can’t find enough workers to complete $43 billion worth of projects.

Fortunately, she is up to the job. Less than a year into her three-year mandate, Dunderdale has overcome two protracted labour disputes and she successfully implemented her first budget. In the first labour dispute, 14 doctors had resigned over the Government’s offer of a 31 per cent pay increase. Dunderdale quickly got a new deal signed. The second involved a protracted strike involving 15 home care workers. Dunderdale resolved the 377 day strike in five days. Then there was the budget. Dunderdale spent money on infrastructure, health care, social programs and handed out tax credits for child care, volunteer fire fighters and offered an eight per cent residential energy rebate on home heating fuel – all without blowing out Newfoundland’s debt.

Dunderdale, a dyed-in-the-wool Newfoundlander from Burin has big plans. She wants to capitalize on Newfoundland and Labrador’s oil and gas reserves. Then perhaps, ironically, Dunderdale wants Newfoundland to become a green energy giant.

The province produces 12 per cent of Canada’s crude oil and the Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board estimates the province contains 479 million barrels of natural gas liquids and 10.86 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. Newfoundland and Labrador’s green energy potential is equally massive – Newfoundland has more than 80 dykes, dams and hydraulic structures.

“Having the oil offshore has been a tremendous lever for us because of it we have been able to make significant investments in infrastructure,” says Dunderdale. “We have spent billions this year in hospitals and improved transport links. These sorts of investments drive the economy. We have had a tremendous expansion of mining interests in Labrador that has created hundreds of new jobs.”

But it is green energy that peaks Dunderdale’s interest. The multibillion dollar Lower Churchill Hydroelectric Project would run electricity from a super dam in Labrador to the rest of Newfoundland via a power cable under the Atlantic. At a $6.2 billion dollar price tag, the hydro dam would power 1.5 million homes per year and create 10,000 person -years of employment during its construction.

“Once we bring on Muskrat Falls, we will have 90 per cent green energy in the province. I don’t think there is anywhere in the world that can say that,” says Dunderdale. Newfoundland and Labrador will have so much energy, says Dunderdale that “we will be able to market it to the rest of the world.”

The Lower Churchill is also big news for Canada. The federal government pledged a loan of $4.2 billion for the project and the other $2 billion will come from the province and private industry.

With Dunderdale at the helm, the future of Newfoundland and Labrador looks bright. “We finally have a vision of where we want to go and it is a deeply understood vision of who we are…It is a wonderful time to be a Newfoundlander and Labradorian. Not,” Dunderdale grins, “that there is ever a bad time.”

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