23 January 2007

Danny Williams: At war with himself

In Saskatoon today, Newfoundland and Labrador premier Danny Williams [Left: in February 2005] insisted that the prime Minister must live up to his campaign promise and exclude non-renewable resource revenues from the Equalization formula.

In October 2006, Williams told provincial Progressive Conservatives he had supported Harper during the federal election but didn't quite trust him.

In his letter to Harper during last year's election campaign, Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Danny Williams advocated including all resource revenues (renewable and non-renewable) in the Equalization formula. He wrote to Harper that this was the policy of the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador.

In the 2004 election campaign, Williams said the Harper plan was not as good as the one he had just negotiated with then-Prime Minister Paul Martin to provide additional Equalization-type payments to the Newfoundland and Labrador provincial government.

Danny Williams is arguing against himself.

He is also undermining his own credibility with national audiences.

Williams knows that his current position - no non-renewable resource revenues - does not treat all provinces equally under Equalization. Provinces that have huge incomes from oil, gas and mining get to hide billions of income the federal top-up program. That gives them considerably more federal transfers than provinces that are less reliant on non-renewables.

Yet, in Saskatoon, Williams told a university audience:
"I think we all know why he might do that. We are facing a federal election and...in the end, equality among provinces takes a back seat to the electoral urgency of currying favour with the majority."
Not only does Williams make a false claim about equality, he pits one province against another as deliberate effort to raise political ire in English-speaking Canada with Quebec. It's not the first time he has criticised Quebec, either explicitly or - as in this case - implicitly.

Williams also knows that the expert panel that reported last year found that both positions he has advocated do not treat provinces equally or fairly. The O'Brien panel found that the all-in approach disadvantages provinces with non-renewable resources. The approach Williams now favours doesn't either.

What O'Brien and his expert panelists proposed instead was including half of all resources revenues. According to O'Brien, the panel's approach would represent as fair a compromise between the two extreme positions - both advocated by Danny Williams.

And obviously by rejecting the O'Brien panel, Williams is effectively arguing against a compromise of his own positions.

Beyond that, however, Williams takes an approach - pitting province against province - he criticizes others for supposedly taking:
"But don't pit provinces against each other, don't take from one to give to another and use it against them, don't break firm written commitments - honour them."
Sadly, it's not the first time he's done that either. In October, Williams launched his re-election campaign by attacking the federal government, just as he today accuses the federal government of putting more money into a single province as a way of currying favour for the Conservatives.

In the Equalization fight, however, Williams stands no chance of winning. He is isolated among Premiers, with only the ineffectual premier of Saskatchewan on his side. The position Williams now defends is demonstrably as unfair to some provinces as the one he advocated only last year.

Incredible as it may seem, Danny Williams is at war with himself.

In such a situation, he cannot help but lose and that, is proof of the wisdom in John Crosbie's critique of Williams' entire approach.