Former New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern spoke about her time in office during her final address to Parliament Wednesday and said she hoped she proved people like her could lead.
“I didn’t change. I leave this place as sensitive as I ever was,” she said, wearing a Korowai, a traditional Maori cloak. “I am here to tell you, you can be that person, and be here.”
Ardern became prime minister in 2017 at the age of 37 and resigned in January, citing burnout, as the Deseret News reported at the time. Her time in office saw crises including the 2019 Christchurch shooting, a volcanic eruption and the COVID-19 pandemic.
She said she didn’t know how history would judge her time as prime minister.
In 2018, Ardern gave birth to a daughter, becoming the first world leader in nearly 30 years to give birth in office.
“There is no question I have had incredible support to be the mother I wanted to be,” she said. “You can be that person and be here.”
During her remarks, Ardern told lawmakers they “saved people’s lives” with their handling of COVID-19. New Zealand enacted strong public health measures and had a lower excess mortality than many other countries for most of the pandemic, with 2,687 people dying from the virus, according to the World Health Organization.
“Was it hard? Absolutely, but we’ll never know who you kept on this earth to know how truly worth it it was,” Ardern said.
She said “so much of the information (about COVID) swirling around was false,” but said misinformation wasn’t limited to the pandemic.
“This is not a single issue problem,” Ardern said. “I have seen the same fractured debates based on distorted half-truths and complete falsehoods, emerging on a range of different subjects. This is not a question of free speech.”
She called climate change a crisis and asked Parliament to “take the politics out” of it.
“There will always be policy differences,” she said. “But beneath that we have what we need to make the progress we must.”
Ardern saw her approval rating slump late last year. She said her father stopped watching the news for five years when she was in office and her mother would send her daily thoughts.
“They were so uplifting that on occasion I would read them out at our small staff meetings,” she said. “That was with the exception of one, which I thought was a bit grandiose, even for a dedicated mother. It read, ‘Remember, even Jesus had people who didn’t like him.’”