When Premier Kathy Dunderdale announced today (Jan. 22) she would be stepping down from the top elected post in the province and the leader of the governing Progressive Conservative party this Friday, MHA for Trinity-Bay de Verde Charlene Johnson did not expect it.
Johnson began a strong relationship with Premier Kathy Dunderdale after first getting elected to office in 2003.
Although not Premier at the time, Dunderdale took Johnson under her wing, and became her mentor. That is one of the reasons why today was very difficult for the young cabinet minister.
“When she first told me… I didn’t know what I was hearing,” Johnson told The Compass in a phone interview this afternoon. “She looked at me and said, ‘It’s time. I’m going.’ I was speechless.”
She said the news was sad and it was a “difficult day.”
“I supported Kathy from day one, and even today,” she explained. “I quickly learned what a dynamic, strong, principled woman she was.”
Johnson continued, saying she had the support from all around the caucus table prior to her decision, but decided to step aside on her own accord.
“It was time for her,” Johnson explained. “And she came to this decision on her own.”
Family was one of the reasons given by Dunderdale in her announcement today at the Confederation Building in St. John’s, and Johnson confirmed it.
“Kathy has five beautiful grandsons, and I bet she can’t wait to spend time with them.”
Dunderdale influenced Johnson
In 2006, Johnson was named parliamentary secretary to the Department of Natural Resources, which Dunderdale was the minister.
She explained the position is a promotion that can lead to a cabinet minister post, like it did for her.
“(Kathy) was so inclusive with me,” Johnson explained, adding how Dunderdale allowed her to attend meetings with some big clients in the natural resources industry, giving her a more hands-on approach to becoming a cabinet minister.
A story many don’t know about Dunderdale is how she influenced Johnson that family life can still come first.
“One of the qualities she shared with me is balancing work with home life; it’s her family values.”
Johnson’s daughter Jorja was six months old when the PC AGM took place in 2009. Johnson’s parents were coming to Gander to watch their granddaughter so she could attend meetings. But they were running late.
“(Kathy) said, ‘give her to me,’” Johnson recalled. “She took her into the meeting and rocked her to sleep.”
This was one of many memories Johnson said made Dunderdale such a inspirational woman to her, and helped her realize it was important to put her family first.
Johnson is not done yet, although she has no aspirations to become anything more than a cabinet minister.
“I plan to stay around,” she explained. “It’s been 10 years for me, and we have a lot more to do.
“I’m looking forward to the next year.”
When asked about how she feels the PCs will do leading up to the next election, she didn’t hesitate.
“This is an opportunity now for renewal,” Johnson said. “Our goal is focused on winning government again in 2015.
“Ultimately the voters will decide… We are a very principle government who do things based on the right reasons not popular reasons. That means a lot to people. I definitely think we are going to be a big factor in 2015.”
Shocked about Paul Lane
Paul Lane was named the parliamentary secretary for the Department of Innovation, Business and Rural Development — the department where Johnson is the minister — in October.
“I was taken by surprise,” she said. “Paul was the parliamentary secretary in my department and I worked with him every day.”
Johnson was surprised he had issues with the party, and questioned why he would take the promotion.
“He never said anything to me about (any issues within the government),” she continued. “He would have been the last person I would have expected to cross the floor. But people make decisions for different reasons.”