26 January 2005

A deal may actually be possible

Following is the text of an extraordinary statement issued today by Premier Williams in response to comments reported today in The Telegram to the effect that a deal was unlikely on Friday in the meeting between the Premier and the Prime Minister. I have dropped some comments into the text, clearly marked in italics.

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NLIS 9 January 26, 2005 (Executive Council)

The following statement was issued today by Premier Danny Williams:

At the beginning of this week, I made a decision that we, as a government, would not be speaking publicly leading up to the meeting with the Prime Minister on Friday. I made this decision because our absolute focus this week has been on working towards a successful conclusion to the discussions with the federal government on the Atlantic Accord.

We want to proceed in good faith which is why I have not spoken with the media this week and, in fact, even today will not speak directly to the issues of the ongoing discussions. I do, however, find myself this afternoon in the position of having to make a brief statement.

I was concerned this morning to read in our local paper a story which quoted an unnamed source at the Federal Liberal Caucus retreat out of Fredericton. That unnamed source essentially said that I, as premier of this province, was intentionally dragging my feet and that I was not interested in concluding this deal.

The story further indicated that I was stalling on the agreement because I was not interested in concluding a deal before our province brings down our Budget this spring. These statements are absolutely false, and I do not believe that they reflect the views of the Prime Minister.

Obviously, I do not know who this federal source is; however, I can assure you that I have been working very hard this week to finalize this agreement. Our officials have been working vigorously with federal officials to work out the details.

Additionally, contrary to what was reported, we have been extremely willing as a province to discuss compromises and to offer creative solutions that work to the satisfaction of both levels of government. I categorically deny dragging my feet or stalling this process. It is untrue and comments such as these do absolutely nothing to aid this process.

[Note: To date, the Premier has been adamant that there were no discussions or negotiations and that no compromises were either necessary or possible. Premier Williams insisted that the Prime Minister's commitment was simple and all that was required was for Ottawa to live up to that commitment, as stated in the Premier's letter of June 10. This statement today represents a radical and very public departure from the Premier's rhetoric of past six months.]

I can state also, unequivocally, that we are not impeding or stalling this process so as to avoid a deal ahead of our provincial spring Budget.

Quite the contrary, our government and the people of the province recognize the serious and urgent need for these additional financial resources. To suggest otherwise is simply wrong.

I sincerely believe that Prime Minister Martin joins me in hoping for a successful conclusion to this file. Our respective governments have spent an extraordinary amount of time working on the file so that a deal can be concluded as soon as possible - a deal that gives the people of Newfoundland and Labrador what they have asked for and what they expect.

Let me be very, very, clear. It is my fervent hope that the outcome of the meeting between myself and the Prime Minister is that this arrangement is concluded to the satisfaction of both levels of government. The people of the province have waited patiently, and we all hope for a successful conclusion on Friday.

[Note: Again, unlike previous meetings the Premier has not placed an ultimatum on this meeting nor has he deliberately heightened expectations. His comments in this statement are relatively modest - relatively.]

2005 01 26 3:15 p.m.

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