Tom Marshall has a few days left as premier so he figured the best thing to do would be to name the courthouse in Corner Brook after Danny Williams, Marshall’s patron.
One of the reasons Marshall gave for his decision was that the province has not done as well as the time when Danny Williams was Premier.
Marshall couldn’t have found a more fitting legacy for Danny Williams if he had really tried. After all, The courthouse and Williams go together
Quiet! Legal Genius at work
Williams and the court house go together, but not because Williams was a lawyer. Some people are a good example for their success. Other people provide the good example of how not to do things.
As premier, Williams was responsible for umpteen major lawsuits. The provincial government lost every one. They got laughed out of court or hammered hard, whether it was in this province or in Quebec.
All massive losses.
And for the record, the provincial government was either legally wrong, had a crappy case, or was morally wrong in each one.
Brazen and Crass
Williams is also a reminder of how precious and vulnerable are the rights we all take for granted. As Premier he showed a disregard for the principles of our democracy that was, quite frankly, unprecedented. He wanted to remove freedom of speech from the House of Assembly. He presided over an administration that routinely ignored the province’s access to information laws, sometimes resorting to preposterous stories to try and keep a few speeches Williams had delivered publicly from disclosure under the law.
In the Abitibi fiasco, Williams wanted some hydro-electric assets operated by Abitibi, Fortis and Enel in central and western Newfoundland. When the companies refused to sell them to Williams’ pet company Nalcor, Williams and his ministers rammed legislation through the House to seize them under the pretence that Abitibi had somehow broken a commitment to the province. The expropriation legislation stripped the companies of the right to receive a fair market value for the seized property. Williams and his ministers wrote the law so that they could dictate the terms. They also shut down a case Abitibi had against the government from an earlier dispute and wiped out Abitibi’s right to any compensation or costs. The entire expropriation was a brazen abuse of political power and a crass affront to the rule of law.
Credit for things he didn’t do
Marshall named the Corner Brook court house after Danny Williams because Williams happened to Premier at a time when the economy took off. Marshall implies that Williams had something to do with that. It’s an old Conservative fairy tale but that’s all it is.
You see the billions in oil revenue that Williams and Marshall spent came as a result of two things. First, we had oil prices driven by international events. Second, we had the royalty regimes for deals developed and signed before 2003. What wasn’t that was money from Voisey’s Bay that was, again, signed before 2003.
To bring it back to the court house, though, we should remember that Williams never practiced law in Corner Brook. In fact, outside of the time he represented the city in the legislature, Williams likely only saw Corner Brook when he drove through on the way to the ferry at Port aux Basques or when he was skiing at Marble Mountain. So basically, Williams’ non-existent connection to the practice of law in Corner Brook is pretty much a match for Williams connection to the billions in oil money that hit the province in an amazing way around 2007.
Welcome to Dannyland
There are many smaller reasons why it’s appropriate to link Williams and the court house. Building the court house was typical of the way Williams’ administration handled their public works. They promised it in 2006, didn’t get it started until after 2007, and by 2009 the Conservatives tried to pass of the old project as an example of new government spending for economic stimulus. Then there’s the roof. it started out at slate but the original material kept falling. The solution was to create fibreglass tiles that look like slate but that are fake.
But what we should really look at is the appropriateness of naming a court house after Williams not because it is Williams but because of the act itself. As near as your humble e-scribbler can determine, there’s only one court house named after anyone. The court house in Grand Bank honours a former lawyer and supreme court justice who had a long and distinguished legal career before and after he was in politics. The provincial government named the court house after him after he’d retired from the bench at age 75.
None of the other court houses bears any name. They are identified as Law Courts or Provincial Court. That is fitting since the courts should be above even the appearance of political interference, patronage, and the like. The law ought to be impartial. If you are going to honour someone, then the court should bear the name of someone with the stature of Alex Hickman and it should be done after one has established a reputation.
Having your buddy name a court after you four years after you bailed on the office and as the party crashes toward political defeat is every bit as tasteless as it looks. It is par for the course though, since Williams and his hand-picked successors practiced an old-fashioned form of patronage-addled politics that we haven’t seen in this province since before the collapse of responsible government in 1934. They have acted since the beginning as if the public business of the province and the offices they held were not positions they held in trust but as entitlements to be used as they saw fit. The Conservatives since 2003 returned to an outdated practice of using any public position as the way to reward their political friends.
And then there is the way that Williams hand-picked his successor and could not keep out of things such that he tried to orchestrate who would replace his hand-picked successor when she finally frigged up too badly and quit. From 2003 until the present, the Conservatives have acted as if they owned the place. Rather than let others judge Williams place in history or run the risk that people would find dozens of people more deserving of such an honour, Marshall did his old patron a nice favour. Public masturbation is the way they have always rolled.
Naming a court house after Danny Williams is probably the least act of entitlement the Conservatives have done.
It sure fits.
And it may not be over yet.
But it sure fits.
After all, they haven’t announced the name for the dam and reservoir in Labrador yet.