24 April 2007

Destiny, nationalism and a Speech from the Throne

Following is an extract from remarks by Premier Danny Williams in the House of Assembly following the throne speech.

The words are taken almost directly from the throne speech since, as convention dictates, it is the Premier who writes the speech.

Both for Newfoundlanders and Labradorians and for their fellow Canadians across Canada, the speech is an interesting clue to the thinking of the feisty first minister.

For example, note that in his speech, as in the throne speech, Williams refers to something called "Ottawa", as if it were a foreign capital.

Some people should also take note of a particular sentence, that "we cannot rely upon those elected to offices outside of this Province to deliver what is in our own best interest." This sentence, repeated in the throne speech and in the news release issued on Tuesday afternoon, should give pause to Stephane Dion, with whom the Premier met on Saturday.

It should surely give pause to all those incumbents federal members of parliament from this province and those likely candidates for it means clearly that Danny Williams does not and will not trust you. These words mean, unequivocally, that elected representatives of the people of Newfoundland and Labrador are not to be trusted merely because they represent the people of the province somewhere other than in the House of Assembly controlled utterly by the current provincial administration.

Scott? Walter? Paul? Peter? Siobhan? Fabian? Gerry? Loyola?

One wonders if they get the point.

Note as well, in the second last paragraph the number of claims that have no substance behind them. The current revenue wave which alone produced the economic miracle Williams claims credit for came as a direct result of the Atlantic Accord (1985).

This landmark in federal-provincial relations was achieved as a direct result of agreement between two strong governments and on the federal side is a direct consequence of efforts by John Crosbie. The negotiations were lengthy and difficult. The deal came close to failing but in the end, through the determination of both the federal and provincial governments, an historic agreement was achieved.

In the current context, a modern John Crosbie would likely get not a lick of support from Danny Williams merely because he was "elected to federal office outside the province". The truth is, that as a direct result of both the federal government and a capable federal minister from this province, Newfoundland and Labrador has never before been in such a position of strength. Nationalists will find that a bitter pill to swallow but it is far closer to reality that anything uttered by the Premier on the matter today.

In the current though, that agreement may be in some jeopardy. The federal government is seeking to amend the deal in direct violation of section 60 of the 1985 Accord. The provincial government - who should be guarding the Accord vigilantly - apparently did not notice that section and still ignores it some three weeks after finance minister Tom Marshall said that provincial lawyers were checking to see if the federal government could unilaterally amend the 1985 Accord.

Instead, the Premier makes much of the "broken promise". Should the federal government succeed in amending the Accord unilaterally, the joint management rights and/or the very revenues on which the Danny Williams miracle has taken place - not the added hand-outs, but the provincially determined direct revenues - might be in jeopardy.

Flowery rhetoric is a fine thing. Quoting William Jennings Bryan on destiny is a fine thing, but perhaps adapting another Bryan quote would be more useful in describing the Premier's speech(es): it seems to me it would be too exacting to confine the Premier to the facts; if he is not allowed to get away from the facts, what has he to deal with?

What does he have indeed?


Hansard, 24 April, 2007:

We are not prepared to tolerate a future of relying on others economically or having others manipulate us into selling ourselves short on resource benefits because we have all seen where that leads. Our people have learned that the best way to achieve self-reliance economically is to achieve self-reliance politically, by taking charge of our future as a people. I do not mean this in any separatist way. People should not read anything into that, because we are all strong nationalists and we are proud Canadians.

Political self-reliance simply means that we cannot rely upon those elected to offices outside of this Province to deliver what is in our own best interest. We must achieve that on our own. Self-reliance will not come by depending on others to achieve it for us. That is a lesson we have learned year after year, generation after generation. So we will harness the desire among Newfoundlanders and Labradorians to cultivate greater political, financial and moral autonomy vis-a-vis Ottawa. As a distinct people and as equal partners, Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal together, we will write a new future for Newfoundland and Labrador; a future of our own design, where mutual understanding, justice, equality, fairness and co-operation are the order of the day.

As the Throne Speech states, we will define our own future. We will strengthen our financial autonomy and our fiscal capacity to meet our own obligations by diversifying and growing our own economy; by reducing Newfoundland and Labrador’s burden of debt on our children; by pursuing a fair, fiscal balance between levels of government and by reducing our dependence on equalization payments.

We now have the ability to aspire to something better for Newfoundland and Labrador. We have the natural resources. We have the human resources and the opportunities that will enable us to achieve self-reliance on our own steam and on our own terms. Even though the federal government will not assist in the way they promised, we will continue to put the resource revenues we are permitted to keep to work for our people.

The truth is, that despite the federal government, never before have we been in a position of such strength. Revenues are strong. Our fiscal position is strong. Our record of expenditure growth has been responsible and strategic. Our standing before our credit rating agencies has never been better. Our resource portfolio is increasingly strong and very attractive to investors, and our collective political will as a people has never been stronger.

We have the financial leverage to accomplish things that are in our Province’s best interest and the fiscal means to stand firm before those who are pressuring us to sell ourselves short. We are negotiating from a position of strength. We can afford to say no to bad deals and hold out for agreements that will result in long-term gain for our Province, not just short-term band-aid solutions, Mr. Speaker.