02 December 2010


On Friday, Danny Williams will head to Government House and resign as Premier, just as eight others have done before him.

Danny Williams was a superlative tactical politician, the likes of which one seldom sees anywhere in Canada and certainly one has seen very rarely in this province.

That was his singular strength and for seven years he campaigned relentlessly to sustain his cult of personality. That cult then gave him license to pursue his own political agenda free of any interference by a thriving, healthy democracy.

Craig Welsh, the townie bastard,  put it aptly:

And what I mean by "he can get away with doing it" is that the premier's popularity is such that he could strangle a baby in the middle of the Avalon Mall parking lot with the assembled provincial media in attendance and there would be people that would say the baby had it coming.

It’s a graphic image.

It is a disturbing image.

But it is an accurate description of Williams’ political influence.  He could say things that were patently,  demonstrably false and people would accept it unquestioningly. Supposedly cynical and sceptical media types were not immune from his powers of persuasion, despite what Danny liked to pretend. Some were known to leap to  defend him.

Danny Williams was right because he was popular and popular because he was right. That he could create and sustain that preposterous notion and have it accepted by so many people is the sum of his political genius.

That was no mean accomplishment.  Danny Williams ranks with the likes of Joe Smallwood, W.A.C. Bennett and Maurice Duplessis.  Anyone who looks on that accomplishment  - cultist worship 40 years after the last of the old demagogues held power – cannot fail to be impressed.  That Williams was able to spread that cult of absurdity to the national level amongst business, academic, editorial and political leaders in a G-8 country at the start of the 21st century is truly astounding.  

Instead of recognising that stunning achievement, people are crediting Danny Williams with a bizarre range of things; but the list, whether compiled at home or across the country, breaks down this way.

  • They credited him for things he didn’t do:  Williams promised a raft of things from openness and transparency in government to sound fiscal management.  He just didn’t deliver on any of them.
  • They credited him for stuff other people did:  the oil and mining windfalls came as a result of deals put together by premiers before Williams. Of that $70 billion Williams talked about in his goodbye speech,  the lion’s share of it came from deals delivered by Clyde Wells, Brian Tobin and Roger Grimes.
  • They credited him for stuff that hasn’t happened yet:  let’s see Hebron in action before anyone breaks open the champagne.  It will likely work out fine but both the earlier reviews of Hibernia or Churchill Falls turned out to be wildly inaccurate, albeit for different reasons.
  • They credited him for stuff that doesn’t exist.  There is no deal to develop the Lower Churchill. What else can anyone say to that sort of thing except note that Williams had them all playing his tune more completely at the end than ever before?

The things that Williams did do, like a one time transfer payment from Ottawa in 2005, have been swollen by the cultist chanting to the point of absurdity. 

And what of Danny Williams’ future? 

Well, in all likelihood,  he and his accomplishments will go the way of other politicians’, including those long-ago strongmen in whose ranks he clearly belongs. There is an inky abyss, a vacuum that awaits them all.  It is a cross between Limbo and Purgatory, a living death for the egotistical and the once-mighty.  Where once throngs sang their praises, there is only silence.

Five days after Williams announced his resignation, people still cry for his departure.  Five weeks from now, they’ll be more concerned about Christmas credit card bills and if politics excites them, they’ll be watching the race to replace him.  Five months from now and the province’s election campaign will be well under way.

Five years from now, people will struggle to remember that guy who parted his hair down the centre of his head.  The collective amnesia on which Danny Williams built his cult of personality will swallow him as surely as it swallowed his predecessors.

Who the gods would destroy, they would first make proud.


- srbp -

Other reading:  Robert Rowe makes the point as succinctly as anyone might in a letter to the Telegram.

Williams might have instilled some sense of pride, however defined, in Randy Simms and others, but no dear leader did that for me. I had it before Williams, during Williams, and I’ll have it after Williams. I have never suffered from any sense of inferiority or poor second cousinism to other Canadians.

True pride cannot be grafted onto a people in Kim Jong-Il style. It is not fostered by belligerence. It is not waving a flag (nor lowering it, for that matter) and it is not the jingle in your pocket. Rather it is a feeling in your guts — deep in your guts — and I’d like to think we have always had it. That’s a gift Premier Williams could not give me. What we did not have was wealth, and I suspect Simms has conflated these issues.

With my gratitude for the effort, I wish the premier a jingle in his pocket and good health in the future.

Update:  Edited to eliminate an awkward sentence.