01 December 2007

Welcome to the endgame

The Telegram account of the Friday meeting between premier and Prime Minister carries a headline about a temporary ceasefire.

They're right.

Williams declared a ceasefire or a toning down of his personal vendetta likely in reaction to pressure from his own caucus.

Then again, Williams did follow his usual pattern of changing the definition of what it takes to satisfy him, too. Recall that in 2004 his negotiations consisted of pointing repeatedly that he wasn't happy and that it was up to the other side to make him happy. When the other party presented him with something that satisfied his demand for happiness, Williams merely shifted ground claiming that the offer didn't make him happy enough or that while that used to make him happy, it is no longer what works.

To wit, the loan guarantee on the Lower Churchill.

A loan guarantee from Ottawa to help with the project is something Williams used to talk about a lot. It was one of the promises - this one a supposed one - that Harper was supposed to keep unless the might of Danny would be called down on the Harper crown.

Now?

A loan guarantee is just that, and it's only a guarantee if we default. That's a good project. That's an annuity. That's a license to print money. That's why we're going to do it alone and that's why we want to have a big piece of the action. Forgive me, we're going to do it in partnership with others. So a loan guarantee is not a big deal. It will enable us to pick up money a little bit cheaper. We'll get a little lower on our interest rate. That's what the benefit is, but that's not $9 billion in cash and don't think for one minute it is. I know you know the difference. That's not a big deal.

There are a few reasons for this shift in direction, beyond the fact that it is just Williams' pattern. As pointed out previously:

  1. The loan guarantee would come with a price tag, namely a federal equity stake - an ownership stake - in the so-called "go it alone" project. The downsides of that should be obvious to anyone who has paid attention to Williams for the past four years.
  2. There never was a loan guarantee offer in the first place. Again, no one reading Bond papers regularly is surprised by this, but it bears repeating. The whole idea of a federal loan guarantee is a Williams invention. it's easy to dismiss something you made up in the first place.
  3. Williams doesn't need the money any more. The Lower Churchill will be backstopped by Hebron - that's one of the reasons for the quickie deal and the real intended use of the Hebron cash all along - as well as the unnamed partners in the "go it alone" version of the Lower Churchill. In the quote above Williams corrects himself and refers to doing the project "in partnership with others." Make note of that correction. Who those others are is a mystery and likely will remain a mystery for years to come.
  4. We are in the endgame of a fight that was never really much of a fight. It would seem that this prime minister, as with the last one, finally drew the line. At that point - as in January 2005 - Williams knew that the bluster and bluff that characterizes his public style has run its course. Exactly the same thing happened when Paul Martin told Williams bluntly that he had reached the end. A final offer was on the table. The Hebron partners likely did something very similar, although in their case, they held the negotiating whip hand as the version of the deal announced earlier in the fall suggests. in this case, Williams started off by acknowledging that the positions are firmly entrenched. Both parties agree to disagree on the "principles" - i.e. the final position is on the table - and the only question now is about compensation.

Some enterprising reporter should dig out the scrum from 28 January 2005 and find the one sentence where Williams talks about the remaining - or did he say "only" - question being the "quantum".

That's the only question left in the family feud between Danny and Steve.

-srbp-

Update: Stephen Harper sounds like he made it clear the final position is on the table on issues Danny Williams was squabbling over. As the Toronto Star reports, Harper said on Friday:
"Politics is the art of the possible. You can't have 100 per cent of everything you want from someone else or some other government. Danny Williams made his point forcefully; it's time to move on to other issues."

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