No question in the 2023 Mood of the Boardroom survey elicited as many comments from CEOs as when we asked them what did they believe was Dame Jacinda Ardern’s legacy as Prime Minister (the positives and any negatives). Fully 100 out of 120 respondents to the Herald’s CEO survey chimed in.
There is general consensus that Ardern’s prime ministership was a game of two halves.
She displayed compassion when needed. Such as with the Mosque terrorism attack in March 2019 when 51 Muslims were slaughtered.
The following year she “helped and supported an entire nation to navigate one of the worst pandemics in living history”.
A dairy boss said she displayed “outstanding compassion”.
“She managed the original Covid crisis well, related exceptionally well with the youth vote and internationally put New Zealand on the map. But she was completely out of her depth in running the business of New Zealand and too soft on education and crime.”
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Another observed, she repositioned New Zealand on the world stage as a “forward thinking, progressive nation (not just farms and scenery)”.
“She did a great job in the early stages of the pandemic when communication and broad buy-in was critical to New Zealand’s response. Unfortunately, it felt like a combination of these external disruptions and a lack of delivery capability within her Government meant she wasn’t able to make substantive progress on core domestic challenges.”
Others said the upshot of her initial pandemic leadership was that Covid-related deaths were lower than in many other countries. As Mainfreight’s Don Braid observes, “whether you like it or not, we at least had Government stability through the pandemic”.
Her role in putting New Zealand on the international stage was mentioned by many. But when it came to her second term as prime minister, after leading Labour to a historic victory in 2020, she failed to drive performance from her Cabinet. “She was too tentative with the majority they had in 2020-2023,” said a leading legal firm boss.
Ardern surprised some when she stepped down as prime minister in February. She said then she had “nothing left in the tank.”
It was time for some “family time’ with her partner and young daughter and to spend time regrouping and studying at Harvard.
She has continued public life as a New Zealand envoy for the Christchurch Call and as a member of the board of trustees of Prince William’s Earthshot Prize.
Dame Therese Walsh who chairs Air NZ and ASB Bank, says travelling offshore it is clear she has enhanced the country’s’s reputation globally”.
There were some frank negatives.
“The collapse of New Zealand’s education system with basic literacy and numeracy falling well down world rankings and appalling absenteeism at secondary schools was mentioned by some. “The legacy of nonsensical extreme left education dogma is going to stay with us for generations,” said Contact Energy CEO Michael Fuge.
“Her personal profile was increased on the global stage,” said a gas industry boss. “The initial stages of crises were managed well, the post crisis response not so much. The negative legacy is de-industrialisation, much increased red tape, polarisation of the electorate.”
Rating Dame Jacinda Ardern
Positive: Jacinda has been a good role model for women, placing family at the forefront of policy, rejecting racism or other radical views. Jacinda also brought great comfort to New Zealanders early in the pandemic. The controls and restrictions remained for too long (but were initially effective). I also believe race relations improved under her leadership.
Negative: I think there was an unwillingness to act quickly on inflation. In fact Government initiatives inflamed this. We are now dealing with the economic fallout of these decisions.
— Andrea Scown, Mitre 10.
Positive: She was very impressive on the world stage and helped nail free trade agreements late in her term.
Negative: She divided our country. She dictated to the population, including those around this room. Execution was poor, the failures in health, education and law and order are now visible for all to see. — Simon Bennett, Accordant.
Positive: She was a great communicator, had excellent relationships with foreign Heads of State and to that extent certainly improved New Zealand’s image overseas.
Negative: However domestically, during the Covid period, I believe the balance between the focus on health and business was lopsided leading much disappointment from the business community.
— Franz Mascarenhas, Cordis hotels.
Positive: A general who rallied the troops in a crisis. Probably our most popular statesperson ever.
Negative: Lack of understanding of economics, allowing the Government to spend beyond the nation’s ability to grow. For Ardern, more Government was always the solution. But sometimes it can be a problem.
— Sam Stubbs, Simplicity.
Positive: The most authentic leader of this period. New Zealand was perceived as kind and compassionate under her leadership and during Covid.
Negative: Staggering incompetence was displayed in the second period (the First Past the Post type) and New Zealand lost its shine.
— Erica Crawford, Loveblock Wine.
Positive: A great communicator who steered us safely through a number of major events, including the pre-Delta pandemic.
Negative: But a lack of execution capability. A sad legacy is that the way she was treated by many has shown New Zealand is no better than Australia in its treatment of female PMs, something I has previously been quite smug about.
— Leading banker.