30 January 2005

Don't step in the spin

Alright, let's get this much said right up front so there is no mistake:

There is a deal. It is a good deal. There is more than enough deserved credit to go around.

It's a good deal because it secures extra cash for the provincial treasury. It is a good deal because Danny Williams, unlike some recent politicians hereabouts - Peckford and Tobin to name two - knew when to take the money and run. He could have easily decided to overplay the political hand and, like Tobin and Peckford, cost the province dearly in delayed development.

For Tobin, it was his "teaspoon" crap that was designed solely to keep his personal polling numbers up. Voisey's Bay sat in the ground costing us millions in needed cash although a good deal was attainable before Grimes signed his agreement. For Peckford it was the "ownership" argument that he continued with long after he was advised, soundly advised, that it was a loser of a position. The oil sat in the ground and we lost money in the process, even though a new deal could have been struck to improve whatever could have been signed before 1984 once Mulroney or some other Prime Minister came to office.

Williams could have fallen into the same trap but he didn't. Good for him. He has elected to spend some political capital to sell this deal, even though you can bet your bottom dollar that the Open Line pundits and other negative Nellies will be lining up to point out the obvious - Danny did say yes to less than he sought after June 10. Spending political capital is the make of a serious politican.

Bear in mind, we heard the same sort of people wanting to leave Hibernia oil in the ground in 1990, as The Telegram did, simply because a "perfect" deal wasn't on the table. Politics is the art of the possible, and, as Don Jamieson's memoirs said, it is no place for fools. Fools, in this instance, are the people who struggle for the obviously unattainable and then whine and gripe when they don't get perfection. Danny Williams is no fool, thank God.

That said, there has been a supertanker load of spin spewing from the provincial government and its supporters over the past year about this whole issue. Spin, to put it bluntly, is nothing less than refined bullshit. Be careful you don't step in it.

The Sunday Telegram is brimming with spin today, both in its editorial and in the two front page stories. Undoubtedly there will be yet more this evening and tomorrow as the call-in shows crank back up. People will ignore the federal government's role - specifically Paul Martin's delivery on a commitment to help the province. They'll forget he has waited around for a year for the province to take him up on his offer to help with a project like the Lower Churchill. They'll also have to listen to the people lining up to take credit - unwarranted credit - for this agreement. I already have at least one e-mail of that latter sort.

Let's just take a sample of the spin from George Baker and Danny Williams and shovel it out the door right now.

George Baker, lately of what an old prof of mine used to call the Antechamber to the Kingdom of Heaven - claims Danny Williams is a non-politician. Spin! Williams is a typical local politician. He milked the sense of frustration in the province for all it was worth. He put on a great show for the past three months to earn accolades about being the "only fighting Newfoundlander". He created an artifical crisis - over the Accord and the province's fiscal position - so he could claim credit for fixing it. Alright, so let him enjoy the role of conquering hero led through the gates of the city.

Thereafter follows the second big pat of spin that ultimately makes this exercise a sham. Premier Williams is quoted in The Telegram today talking about restoring confidence in the people of the province, of turning a corner to "have" status. Spin!

What is producing the economic benefit is the very Atlantic Accord Premier Williams so energetically and needlessly trashed these past few months. We will attain "have" province status as a result of oil revenues already flowing as a direct result of the Atlantic Accord. What Danny brought back from Ottawa was some gravy and good on him for doing it.

What will restore confidence, though, is the understanding that this province is NOT poor, that our provincial finances are not in utter disarray. Confidence comes from realising that all the cuts and belt tightening in the early 1990s proved that we, collectively, can sort out our own financial mess and then reap the reward, just as the people of Saskatchewan have done. Confidence comes from realising that even though an old-fashioned spin shoveller can still take power, he didn't last very long once we caught on.

Confidence will be bolstered by looking around and seeing local entrepreneurs taking advantage of the oil industry, building new businesses and competing successfully around the globe for work. Confidence is easy to find in the other entrepreneurs in other industries who are responsible for growth in the economy and job creation apart from the oil business. Confidence comes from realising that while cod are gone - and they are gone, by the way - other fishing is producing new wealth in the province. Local companies are catching and processing local sea products and selling them around the world. FPI is the biggest but there are others.

No one man or woman can restore confidence in this province. As good a guy as Danny is, he is no saviour. We don't need one. Our economic salvation rests in the hands of each person in the province. Would that local news media focused on that for a change; maybe then Margaret Wente and Michale Bliss would have something better to write about. Maybe then, people in other provinces would see what is actually going on down here without having to send guys like Roy MacGregor on high-altitude survey missions in hopes of finding the Lost City of Atlantis.

Danny shouldn't be clamouring for saviour status and he should refuse the label if someone tries to stick a crown on his head. Just as surely as the Atlantic Accord was turned into someone's political give-away myth 20 years after the fact, Danny Williams should recognize that the same people weaving his raiment today for this great deal, have nails and hammer and tree out in the back yard for the next, inevitable phase of the "saviour" story.

It's a good deal Danny and congratulations. Just watch out for the spin.