23 March 2007

For the record: Danny Williams on federal provincial relations

It's amazing how times change.

Danny Williams used to believe that vicious personal attacks are no use.

From 2003, before he got elected, Danny Williams sang a very different tune from the one that has him branded today:


Williams touts national trek: Similar Grimes' trip failed because premier 'didn't do his homework'

By: Barb Sweet
The Telegram (St. John's)
Saturday, October 11, 2003
Page: A1

If Tory Leader Danny Williams were premier, he would massage provincial-federal relations. But if that didn't work, he'd launch a national marketing campaign and try to get other premiers to back Newfoundland and Labrador's cause.

"If they're not going to be fair to us, then I would basically launch a national marketing campaign to let people know exactly what the story is in Newfoundland and Labrador, how there is unfairness and I would lobby the premiers right across the country," the election front-runner said in an interview this week.


But wait -- isn't that what Premier Roger Grimes tried and failed to do this past summer with his cross-Canada trek, trying to sell the province's case to his fellow premiers? Hasn't the province been there and done that?

Angered by the latest fisheries closure, Grimes vowed to push for a constitutional amendment to allow joint federal-provincial management of the fishery.

But it fizzled when the other premiers didn't seem all that interested and he agreed to work jointly on a "rebuilding and recovery" program for the cod, which fell short of his goal for joint management of fisheries in waters adjacent to the coast of Newfoundland and Labrador.

Williams said in an interview this week that Grimes' problem was he took the wrong tack.

"Roger Grimes didn't do his homework. He picked up and said 'I'm going to go and see if I can't get constitutional reform.' What I would be doing is I would be talking to (Prince Edward Island Premier) Pat Binns and (Nova Scotia Premier) John Hamm and (New Brunswick Premier) Bernard Lord and (Ontario Premier) Dalton McGuinty and (Alberta Premier Ralph) Klein and say 'Look now, here's our situation, here's our case.' And I'd have the homework done in advance," Williams said.

"These are all premiers, they advocate for their own provinces, but I think they're fair and they can understand. It's easy for the federal government to stand back and take the Mother Ottawa approach and say 'Well, I'm going to be good to Ontario, I'm going to be good to Quebec and all the rest don't count.'"

But before he'd do all that, Williams is counting on a new regime under Paul Martin, Prime Minister Jean Chretien's uncrowned successor, to help smooth the waters. He's also planning on fostering a more congenial relationship with Ottawa and said he won't fight with the federal MPs from the province, regardless of their political stripe. [Emphasis added]

The Tory platform promises a Newfoundland and Labrador office of provincial-federal relations to be set up in Ottawa.

Williams blames Grimes for taking a hostile approach, waging war with MPs -- even his own Liberal counterparts like, federal cabinet minister Gerry Byrne -- as well as with Ottawa. [Emphasis added]

Williams would only go to war if Ottawa doesn't play ball.

"The politics of the personal attack doesn't work. I'm going to nurture -- if an MP happens to be a Tory or a Liberal or an NDP -- it's not going to make any difference to me. They're Newfoundlander and Labradorian representatives and we need to work together," Williams said. [Emphasis added]

He points to the all-party committee on the fishery, saying Grimes broke ranks and that's why the province didn't get Ottawa to change its mind on closing the Gulf and the northeast coast fishery.

Williams insists he's a better negotiator and would have gotten a better deal on the province's resources, such as oil, Voisey's Bay and the yet-to-be-completed Lower Churchill negotiations.

Williams' comments came in an interview about his infrastructure platform.

He's embarking on a lofty crusade to improve rural infrastructure, including roads, ferries, Internet and air links, the province's highways and sewage and drinking-water systems. The platform also calls for a fixed link across the Straight of Belle Isle. He also proposes to grapple with mounting school and hospital infrastructure woes that get placed on the backburner due to a system already taxed by program and service delivery demands.

Recent stories on hospital and school board submissions for capital repairs and upgrades revealed schools boards need $60 million to patch leaky roofs, repair rotting floors and cure air-quality problems. That list is getting compounded every year. In this fiscal year's budget, the province allocated a $3.5-million contingency fund for school maintenance and repairs and $3.3 million for capital construction.

Hospitals need $20 million for similar problems and that's just for this year. Each board, however, is getting just a handful of items on its list approved -- a fraction of what's needed.

Adequate infrastructure, Williams said, is key to bringing businesses and industry to Newfoundland, particularly rural Newfoundland.

"This government and the previous governments over the last 10-15 years have allowed our infrastructure to deteriorate to the point now where the job's getting much bigger to do," Williams said.

Like the Liberals, he's talking about using the provincial fuel tax to fix roads. But Williams is also counting on hammering out a new federal-provincial roads agreement and achieving a better equalization formula and an end to clawbacks from Ottawa to help fund the improvements. He would promise Martin if the clawback on the province's increasing revenues was eliminated, the funds would go directly into infrastructure.

"In other words, 'Paul Martin, if you can give us those funds, we'll put them directly into infrastructure. We won't put them into tax cuts, we won't put them into anything else. We will make a commitment to you and guarantee you that's where they'll go.'"

Other premiers have tried and failed to negotiate a better fiscal deal with Ottawa.

"If they don't accept the rational approach, based on planning and fairness, then we have to consider whether or not they're our true partners in Confederation, whether they are our friends, whether they are being reasonable with us," Williams said.