28 March 2007

Why Danny's campaign will fail

John F. Kennedy said: "Ask not what your country can do for you but what you can do for your country."

I say to Newfoundlanders and Labradorians: "Ask not what we can do for our country, because we have done enough. Let's ask our country what they can do for us."
Danny Williams, April 7, 2001

For a quarter of a million bucks, you'd think Danny Williams could do more with his print ads than a bunch of text on a crappy layout.

You'd think there'd be more than the obvious, namely that the federal Conservatives didn't do exactly what they promised on Equalization.

Inquiring minds, or even the ones who haven't already written Williams off as nothing more than a guy needing to have his political bile ducts surgically removed, would wonder how exactly Harper's decision has damaged Danny Williams and the province he leads.

Those who lost money in the income trust decision can point to their lost income.

They have numbers.

Hard facts.

Incontrovertible evidence of harm.

If Danny Williams had such evidence, he'd have used it. That he can only talk in vague terms - as he is wont to do on just about everything - suggests that he has no evidence.

That lack of evidence undermines the credibility of his argument.

Williams undermines his own argument further by making the statement that Newfoundland and Labrador does not need the federal government and its cash. If that's the case, then there is no need for Williams to be in High Dudgeon yet again. If the economy was relentlessly growing, then he'd be calmly getting on with the business of developing the provincial economy into the powerhouse it could be.

Logic is not Danny Williams long suit, evidently.

For everyone other than the faithful disciples of the Williams Church of Victimology, there are facts. Those facts find their way into articles like the latest John Ivison column in the National Post. The Globe did the same thing with its editorial last Saturday. Those facts make it plain that Williams' argument will have no traction where he would need it, namely among the crowd on the mainland.

For Williams' latest tantrum to have any political impact, he would need to do more than threaten to turn the seven Newfoundland and Labrador federal seats to a party other than the Conservatives. Williams simply has no political influence outside his own province. In fact, few provincial premiers from this place ever have. What Manitoban or British Columbian ever felt moved by the antics of a Brian Tobin or Brian Peckford or Frank Moores?

The only Premier of Newfoundland and Labrador to make a political impact outside his own province was Clyde Wells. That impact, during the Meech Lake constitutional fracas was built around a national Canadian argument. Wells' arguments against creating a special status for one province and in favour of meaningful reform like a triple-E senate applied as much to Ontarians, Albertans and Quebeckers as they did to the people in Goose Bay or Pasadena.

It should be remembered that Wells did not stay in a perpetual condition of irk. On other issues, such as economic development, social welfare reform, or fiscal responsibility, Wells could sometimes agree with the federal government. In some instances he disagreed with a federal policy, but while he could argue forcefully and passionately, Wells never did he resort to the sort of foot-stomping that is Williams' one trick. He persuaded - or attempted to persuade - with reason.

Consider as well, that by 1993 - about the same time in his first mandate as Williams is at right now - Wells' administration had produced an unprecedented economic development plan for the province. His administration had begun dramatic education reform, not merely to save money but to improve the quality of education to support long-term economic development. All this was done in a financial climate in which the provincial debt was the equal of the provincial gross domestic product, when all three of the province's economic engines were in decline simultaneously and the federal government's own financial resources were strained.

Taken all together, any argument that Wells could made was backed by substantive evidence of a responsible provincial government that was acting to address the province's many challenges. When he approached federal issues, Wells focused on equal and equitable treatment for all Canadians, especially Newfoundlanders and Labradorians.

Compare that to where Danny Williams sits today and one can easily see another reason why his latest tirade will fall on deaf ears across Canada and increasingly at home.

Three years into his first administration, Danny Williams can only talk of plans. Rather than encouraging new economic opportunities - as with Hibernia - Canadians from Cape Spear to the farthest tip of Vancouver Island can see Danny Williams turn away $14 billion in provincial government revenue from oil development for only the vaguest, and one suspects insubstantial, of reasons. Rather than fair and equitable treatment, Williams speaks of getting the most for his province, and implicitly, giving not even a tinker's damn about the rest of the country.

Ultimately, politics is about persuasion. Persuasive arguments are internally consistent, factually based and reasonably - even if passionately - delivered. Danny Williams' argument on Equalization has none of those qualities.

Those argument are framed to appeal to the audience. No aspect of Williams' argument, including the copy in his advertising, is aimed at the audience or audiences he needs to persuade if his whole campaign is to have any effect whatsoever.

Well, an effect beyond strengthening the cash flow of a few newspapers and an advertising agency and getting rid of some surplus cash near the end of the fiscal year.



Steve V said...

"Williams simply has no political influence outside his own province."

Ed, I don't think it matters is Williams can prove his points. What matters, much like the Conservative attack ads, is creating the impression that Stephen Harper breaks his promises. Say one thing do another, that is the message and in that sense his "campaign" may resonate outside of his province. It's a simple label, easy to understand. Most Canadians have no idea of the nuances of Newfoundland politics, all they will know is that Williams is hopping mad about a broken promise. I guess it depends how you view success, but as someone who doesn't want a Harper majority, I see Williams as doing his part, in a small way. Media weren't discussing the child tax benefits today, they were debating Williams accusations- I consider that a positive, given the budget intentions.

Lloyd said...

What are you trying to prove? If you were a real Newfoundlander you would be looking for some quality in each and everyone of us to encourage and promote. Instead, you seem fixated on fault-finding, almost everything you write reeking of cynicism It seems we've always been plagued with this curse: too many individuals like yourself who delight in gloating over another's failure, especially one of our our own, instead of rejoicing in their success. Whatever can be said about Danny Williams, no one can deny that his heart is in the right place or that there is merit in his desire to elevate us above being the doormat of the nation. Danny is not infallible, he is not perfect, he is not "Jesus Christ": he is one of us, chosen currently to be our political leader and thus entitled to our loyalty , even if not our unconditional approval. "Blood is thicker than water" but this, unfortunately, is an aphorism which you seem incapable of grasping. Yes, I know you have your following out there, your Liams and your Bobs - denizens of the open-line shows - but it beats me to find any contribution you are making to the common good. So much easer to tear down than to build up. Pity , since, obviously, you have unquestionable writing skills.

Mark said...

"rejoicing in their success"

spare me

"his heart is in the right place "

if you live inside the overpass, yes, it probably is. Afterall, as Danny himself says, "St. John's can take the hit"

"one of our our own"

sorry, I'm not from the merchant class.

"the doormat of the nation"

that sounds like something Harper would say. I'm a proud Newfoundlander, Why would you call us such a thing? That's insulting. Really. I am not a doormat. My parents aren't doormats. My hometown is not a doormat. If Danny has convinced you that you are a doormat than I really feel sorry for you.

"entitled to our loyalty "

And even more so, entitled to our criticism. Last I checked we aren't in North Korea, Iran or Stalin's Russia. Did I miss something?

If you disagree with Ed (and I disgaree with him often) then why not put forward something of substance in response? Wouldn't that bemore constructive?

Supporting someone simply because they are "one of us" is the excuse that millions of people used in the last century to justify appeasing tyrants and dictators. Obviously Williams is neither, but I use the sentence simply to highlight the weakness of your argument.

For the record, Harper lied. Lied through his teeth, repeatedly. Lied, lied, lied. This campaign by Williams is at least premised on the fact of a broken promise, as opposed to the last one...

Edward G. Hollett said...


In some respects you are right. Any impact that you attribute to the campaign, though comes from evidence of other things from other places.

If we look solely at the ad campaign, it is weak since it offers up no concrete evidence to sustain it. There is no bite to it.


Thank you for being the fine example of what I believe is fundamentally wrong in the approach taken by so many people in this province.


I am crushed. I thought you the Bond equivalent of Lloyd.

Happy to be here said...

Ed, I think you are exactly correct. This may help Danny locally (although most people already think of him as odd), but where it counts to Harper, say in Ontario, it only makes Williams look bad.

There is a lot of frustration in Ontario over taxation and always being the cash cow that helps the other provinces. People don't begrudge it, but by showing such a class-less lake of appreciation to the tax payers in Ontario, all Williams has done is make Harper look better.

Reality check: no one cares if he broke his election promise.

I hardly need to list all the promises that have been broken by other more successful politicians.

Mark said...

If our Premier comes home from a meeting with his counterparts and says "don't worry they all support me on Equalization" is that a lie?

If our Finance Minister comes back from a similar meeting and says "Solving the fiscal imbalance as Mr. Harper and Charest suggest will be good for Newfoundland" is that a lie?

Why are some lies worthy of such campaigns of rhetoric, while others simply pass us by?

Edward G. Hollett said...

Happy: I agree.

To say that politician broke his or her promise is like saying the sun came up this morning.

The question becomes about what damage - if any - the broken promise caused. If the provincial government here had that information then surely it would use it's strongest, most convincing argument.

Without that factual basis and without being able to make your argument relevant to people in places like Ontario or Alberta or Manitoba, don't expect too many people to share in your outrage.

At the same time, if removing non-renewables from Equalization benefits some provinces but really screws others - like New Brunswick as one example - then don't be surprised if they don't give a rat's backside that harper "broke his promise."

All of that, of course, is why the Premiers couldn't agree among themselves at all.

Jason Hickman said...

The only Premier of Newfoundland and Labrador to make a political impact outside his own province was Clyde Wells. That impact, during the Meech Lake constitutional fracas...

Ed, leaving aside the merits of that issue, and not to belittle the impact Wells had at the time, keep in mind that the reason he had an impact o/s the province during Meech was because Meech was one of the few things where every province needed to sign on.

If Meech had been a "7 of 10, 50% of the pop." kind of amendment, it's questionable whether Newfoundland's position (or Manitoba and NB's, for that matter) would have commanded such attention.

Because Meech needed to be ratified by all 10 provinces, it was much, much easier for someone in Wells's shoes to have a nation-wide "political impact".

Edward G. Hollett said...


If the changes had required the 7/50 rule, the whole thing would have been over before the 1989 election and therefore it would have been moot.

That to one side - since the amendments required unanimity - what resonated in Wells' arguments was that they were not focused purely on the interests of one particular province.

Provincial premiers have an historically hard time dealing with national issues as national issues since they often wind up being perceived as representing nothing more than the province they lead.

In Danny Williams' case, his argument is all the more difficult since he has repeatedly taken the view I described. That is, he looks explicitly and exclusively at NL and nothing else along the lines of "the devil take the hindmost."

The reaction to Wells' position was divided, but he found an incredibly strong reaction across Canada because of the arguments not simply because the amending formula gave an opportunity.

My argument - like the issue - is a tad more complex.

Jason Hickman said...

Ed, like I said before, I'm not trying to minimize the strength of Wells's arguments - even though I was pro-Meech at the time, and am still a bit conflicted on the issue today.

I also do not disagree very much, if at all, with your take on what the current premier's doing.

My point, fwiw, is that I don't think Wells's views would've had an impact were it not for the fact that NL's approval re: Meech was as important and essential as any other province's.

I was living in Ontario & BC for most of CW's time as premier and for better or worse, the only time when he truly captured national attention - or at least, the attention of the media & punditry in those 2 provinces - was during the Meech debate. That doesn't make Clyde a bad premier or advocate for his province's interests (which, btw, is part of what a premier is supposed to do), or the more national interests you mention above - I personally think his record is mixed, and I probably give him more due than a lot of Tories - but it's a reflection of the size of the jurisdiction.

Williams was able to get nation-wide attention and a fairly good level of support (at least in Ontario) during the last equalization go-round. Whether he'll be able to do so this time is far less certain, for a # of reasons (including one that hasn't been mentioned: the absence of a John Hamm type in the "good cop" role).

All of this is to say that regardless of the merits of individual NL premiers and/or their arguments, our status in Confederation means we have to pick our spots. That's not because of some mysterious conspiracy to keep NL down - probably :) - but because of our relative size & political importance - not much more, not much less.

Edward G. Hollett said...


Solid points and by and large I'd agree. I didn't disagree with your earlier comment except that I wouldn't want to overplay the amending formula. If Wells had carried messages aimed primarily at upping the ante for Nl at the expense of everyone else, then people across the country would have looked on the argument with much less favour if not outright hostility.

Premiers usually don't get support outside their own provinces for very much unless there is a national issue like constitutional discussions of some kind.

In 2004, Williams was a fresh face, appeared to have a just cause and given the supposedly hideous state of the province's finances appeared to have a cause for getting a bit extra to help out. (That is a bit of a facetious characterisation.)

If you want to put it that way, every Premier gets one for free.

Three years later the situation is very much different. Williams has branded himself, has turned down what appear to be incredibly good deals etc etc.

He is now trying to go back to the same well with a far less obvious and convincing case in an environment which is not going to give too much support, if any, without some substantive persuading.

How many mainlanders took up the cudgels when the fishery closed in 1992 and Wells tried the "and no fish swam" thing? Not exactly the same as the current squabble but if the issue has no relevance to the audience, they'll tune out.

The current flap will last another few hours and then die a quiet death. In media terms, it's a one-cycle wonder.

One last thing: bear in mind that this time around Williams is not getting a free ride from news media either. They are looking at him with a much sharper eye both nationally and locally. That is showing with the coverage. it isn't biased; it just doesn't come with too many softball questions any more.

Williams had his one for free. ANy victories in the future will require effort.

WJM said...

Whatever can be said about Danny Williams, no one can deny that his heart is in the right place

YOu are wrong: I deny that.

or that there is merit in his desire to elevate us above being the doormat of the nation.

How has he manifested this supposed "desire"?

And how are "us" "the doormat of the nation"?

If anything, Danny Williams' entire political career thus far has been about achieving as much of a state of dependence on Ottawa as humanly possible.

WJM said...

If our Premier comes home from a meeting with his counterparts and says "don't worry they all support me on Equalization" is that a lie?

I know one thing.


A Progressive Conservative government will acknowledge that the decision in the Powley case applies to Metis in Newfoundland and Labrador, and will par ticipate with specific rights affirmed in the Powley decision and other rights protected under s. 35 of the Constitution.

was most definitely a lie.

As a wise Gael once said:

"There no greater fraud than a promise not kept."

Something for Danny the Celtophile to bear in mind.

Independant said...


May I ask why you are always trying to pick holes in Danny Williams? I am listening to you right now and I must say your attitude is constant - always bickering with our own when you need to be fighting others.

Why don't you get the nerve to run if you have it all figured out? But it is easier to hide behind radio and the internet. Why don't you put your neck out there and fight on the right side!

Edward G. Hollett said...

So, dmpenton, who should I be fighting and why?

Independant said...


It would be good to see and hear you pick holes in our federal government - Harper for starters...Maybe the Churchill Falls agreement, or Marine Atlantic, or DFO, or etc.

Openline is a good way to get your opinion accross but in this province, far too many people fight each other. IF we only took the time to collaborate, expand on each others ideas in support of one another we might just do something with our province - collectively. The reason we are supressed is not Ottawa - it is in our negativity towards each other that hold us back - we cannot agree on anything in this province....we are fighting Newfoundlanders - We fight each other very well - but to get out and make a difference in the world of Canada - we aint got the guts!

Edward G. Hollett said...

Well, I have picked Harper apart long before people elected him, including Danny Williams.

I have also tried and will continue to correct many of the misunderstandings, lies, and other falsehoods spread about the Upper Churchill agreement by people in this province for their own purposes.

Danny Williams keeps spreading the falsehoods; I'll keep working to correct him with facts.

As for DFO and the rest, I don't share the commonly held views - shared by the Premier - so perhaps that is why you find things around here are frequently critical of his comments.

In general, I'd disagree with your last paragraph entirely.

Far too many people share far too many myths, fantasies and in some cases outright lies about the fishery (DFO), Marine Atlantic, Churchill Falls etc etc. The problem is definitely not that we do not all pull together.

The problem is that more people don't question the convenient and comfortable myths about NL being a victim of foreigners. Danny Williams happens to be one of those miserable and far too typical local politicians who fuels those myths all to the detriment of the province.

The current administration builds its entire case on those misrepresentations, distortions and falsehoods. It continually reinforces the false message that people in this province are victims of foreigners, that we are, as you put it "suppressed".

And it tells us the silly line, common with politicians that want to stifle debate, that everyone needs to pull together and get behind the Leader of the Moment.

What suppresses us, if anything does, is the weight of the nonsense that passes for truth around here.

Independant said...


Have you ever been aboard a fishing vessel? Have you ever fished off the shores of this province? Have you ever talked directly to fishery and plan workers? How can you say that the Governments, especially DFO have contributed largely to the demise of our fishery resources. They say one thing one day about the fishery then the next, some young jock comes out of school in Ontario and claims we are all backwards! If DFO had listened to the fishermen of this province 80 years ago we would not be where we are today. So, Danny, nor Brian Tobin, nor any other NL politician is wrong in demanding a fix.

Edward G. Hollett said...

Not quite sure what you are driving at.

On the fishery, there really isn't anyone in government or the industry who can escape some measure of responsibility for collapse of the cod stocks or for the current mess.

Likewise, everyone will have to be part of whatever solutions wind up in place. It just isn't good enough to look to Ottawa, blame the feds and then demand cash in order to keep the same mess or another version of it in place.

If politicians in the then-independent country of Newfoundland had listened to fishermen, represented by Coaker, I'd agree the industry would be in much better shape.

on the up side, it was very interesting to hear the FFAW proposing an auction of fish as a way of adding value to the harvesting sector. It's been applied elsewhere to great success and certainly is worth our careful consideration.

WJM said...

Maybe the Churchill Falls agreement

Which Churchill Falls agreement is the federal government a party to?