09 September 2010

Time to retire the old schtick

On a certain level, you can’t blame Danny Williams for saying the same stuff over and over.

After all, audiences like today’s gathering at the Board of Trade keep lapping it up.  They turned out in force, chuckling and applauding in all the right places as if they knew the script by heart.

As the scrum video shows, local reporters from the province’s two television networks never tire of asking him the same old questions over and over, getting the same old answers over and over,  and then passing them yet again to the audience at home as if they heard it for the first time.  

But while some people never seem to tire of re-runs, there are likely an ever-increasing number of people in the province for whom the province’s political news is starting to look like watching some borscht-belt comedian on a 1970s American talk show.  Decades ago, the guy had one joke that sort of worked, yet the host thinks the old codger is a comedic genius.  So he flies the guy back from Florida to inflict him on his audience over and over again.  In the two channel universe of the 1970s or even the 13 channel cable world of the 1980s, audiences didn’t really have much choice.

Just to make sure you have a clear picture in your head, though, think Bobby Bittman from The Sammy Maudlin Show.

Then think of a parody of Bobby Bittman on The Sammy Maudlin Show.

Now you are getting close to the reality that is Wednesday’s vintage Danny Williams speech.  Take an endless recitation of how much money government spent on this that or the other.  Rattle off supposed triumphs. Talk of a new attitude of “confidence, courage, maturity and integrity”. Cliches and pat phrases interspersed with random quotations from Bartlett’s.  As formulaic as The Ropers.

The result is jarring even beyond the idea that merely spending increasing amounts of cash is the only measure of success, that running massive deficits displays “fiscal discipline” or that calling Bank of Canada Governor Mark Carney “a very powerful individual” is not trite.  With all the bravado and self-praise thrown liberally around as well, one has a speech that reeks of insecurity, fear, and childishness.

For Newfoundlanders and Labradorians, the speech was surely embarrassing. What else could it be when anyone  - let alone the Premier of a province – speaks of noble virtues, promises to “take no prisoners” in a political war with Quebec over the Lower Churchill, then immediately afterward quotes Mohandas Ghandi and yet remains completely oblivious to the stupidity of doing so in such a context.

On one level no one could blame any politician for doing what appears to work politically, but on another level,  the Premier’s performance at the Board of Trade was also a sign of an administration that has – to put it plainly - run out of ideas.

That lack of ideas is hurting the province.  The Premier has neither the markets nor the money to erect his $14 billion wet dream.  If he did, then Danny Williams would be building it instead of talking about it.  In the meantime, his obsession blocks out any development of wind or other energy power in the meantime.  That – as strange as it seems – is the government’s energy policy.

What’s more, the opportunity that does exist south of the border is being squandered in imaginary political squabbles.  Neil Leblanc just finished his appointment as Canadian consul in Boston.  As he noted in a recent interview, the northeastern United States is a ripe a lucrative market. 

But, Leblanc noted, it is not good enough for Canadians to say simply that we are here so “Come buy from us”.  In other words, it is not enough to say we have the most phantasmagoric undeveloped green energy planet in all Creation.  Canadian provinces cannot sit and wait for business to fall into their laps. The New England states themselves are also building new energy sources.  Other American states are already building new generation and transmission facilities to supply the eastern seaboard.

"There is time for the Atlantic provinces and Quebec to put their best foot forward. We have a lot of natural resources here, which we can hopefully take advantage of," he said. "It's a win-win situation if we can do it."

It could be a win-win situation.

Unfortunately, as long as Danny Williams uses the same speech over and over again, the best foot is not going forward. 

Far from it.

It’s time for the old schtick to retire.

- srbp -