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.